Friday, January 10, 2020

4 responses to Citizen Development

I was recently asked what I thought about citizen developers/development.
If you're not familiar with the term, it's the ability for "power-users" to create apps for their own use.

My answer comes in four parts.
  1. In General
  2. As a developer
  3. As a business-person
  4. and as a designer.

General (human response)
Citizen development is a good thing. It's great to be able to empower people to create their own solutions and not have them be held back through limited resources or overly controlling processes.


Developer (and IT department)
With my "developer hat" on I have some concerns.
- Will developers in the company be expected to support such apps?
- Will developers be asked to change citizen developed apps?
- How will these apps work alongside other developed software?
- Will the same rigors of testing and reliability be applied to citizen developed apps as ones created by an IT department?
- What if a citizen developed app needs to be reimplemented by the IT department? Is this something that needs to be considered, planned, or prepared for?
- How to balance the needs of an entire company when some departments are doing citizen development and others aren't?
- How to avoid the creation of a "shadow IT" department? Or departments going out and doing other IT related things themselves?
- What support is needed/required from the IT department for those creating citizen apps?

With my "business hat" on I have different concerns.
- How do we verify the accuracy of what's developed and what it does?
- What if there are legal consequences associated with actions taken in the apps? (e.g. personal or private information not tracked or protected correctly.)
- How do we keep track of what's developed, where they're distributed, when, where, and how they're used?
- What happens if the people who develop these things leave the company and changes need to be made?
- What happens if the company supplying the tools to make these apps goes away, or stops making them?
- What if we need a change or support from the company making the tool to create the apps?

These business and developer concerns may seem extreme but the idea of a department in a business that has their own Excel spreadsheet containing complex formulas and macros is common. That those spreadsheets are things that no-one knows all the details about how they work, what they actually do, how to successfully modify them, or the full consequences of changing them, is not uncommon. I see a great potential similarity between such spreadsheets and citizen developed apps.

With my "Designer-hat" on my concerns are different again.
- Most of the apps I've seen developed with these tools are ugly. At best they're like 20-year old WinForms apps. Through their crude visual designers, it's easy to end up with the app equivalent of bad PowerPoint and they don't have the tools or guidance to make anything better.
- There are more practical implications too. What about the accessibility needs of users of developed apps? How do they support accessibility tools like screen-readers? What about system-wide accessibility settings like text size changes or high-contrast?
- How are (or can) designers (be) involved in the creation of these apps to ensure good usability and UX practices?


So what can be done about this?
I'm not sure yet. I don't even know if these concerns are valid. They may not apply or matter to the businesses that use them.

I'm hoping that I'll learn more and get responses to some of my concerns when I attend Ignite: The Tour next week.

1 comment:

  1. I think your concerns are valid but they aren’t new. Citizen developers, no-code solutions, etc. is fresh marketing on an old concept. Many enterprises are littered with Access databases/apps, Frontpage/Dreamweaver/Sharepoint built web sites, and Excel/VBA macros from yesteryear. The one thing common about these solutions is they come and go. The artifacts are then handed over to IT or high paid consultant developers when they are no longer maintainable to rewrite or migrate into something maintainable.


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