Digital transformation, new technologies, the exponential growth of data, the problems of globalization, sustainability, the collapse of supply chains and the constant pressure of being left behind by a lack of digitization demand agile and fast action. These are just some of the drivers behind the simultaneously exponentially increasing demand for new applications. Added to this is their continuous need for optimization in order to adapt to rapidly changing market situations and stay competitive. In many cases, it is beyond the capacity of the internal IT department to cope with this immense pressure. This is because, in addition to regular tasks such as IT operations, infrastructure and security measures, IT departments are confronted with an ever-increasing mountain of requirements for the realization of applications. Application development finds itself in a vicious circle, because due to the global shortage of IT specialists and lengthy traditional programming by experienced IT specialists, there is no way out of this dilemma in sight.

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Shortage of IT specialists

There is no doubt that there is a way to break this vicious circle nowadays. It is the combination of low-code technology and citizen development to keep up with this rapid pace of innovation and to secure competitiveness.

What is meant by low-code and citizen development? What are the benefits and what risks need to be considered? What does a low-code development platform need to do in order to successfully implement citizen development?

Low-code technology – how does application development work?

Instead of spending months writing complicated source code, low-code technology primarily uses graphical elements that are simply placed in the desired position using drag-and-drop and logically interconnected. One chooses from data models, different user interfaces and models for the dialog flow or process models. Many variables can then be individually adapted with just a few clicks to ultimately realize applications of any complexity. In principle, this works just as easily as with LEGO bricks, which can now be used to build impressive constructions that can be controlled via smartphone.

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Low-Code App Development

Development process of a low-code app

In order to realize the applications, one usually needs access to databases and external systems that have to be integrated. This data exchange is also extremely simple thanks to the use of corresponding integration elements via drag & drop. Lengthy coding is completely unnecessary.

As with any other software, a test phase is required to perform functional and non-functional tests (e.g., user experience, performance) as well as to gather suggestions and proposals for improvement from end users and your stakeholders. In contrast to conventional programming, a low-code platform reduces the testing phase enormously by requiring only the programmed logic to be tested. This is because everything that the platform provides in terms of elements does not need to be tested. Some low-code development platforms additionally reduce the testing effort by providing previews for the user interface and dialog sequences, as well as by automating tests.

Once the app is fully tested, it can be made available to end users. If you use a low-code platform, it includes the required runtime environment out-of-the-box, which you can use to publish the application, for example via the cloud. You can do this with just a few clicks and within seconds. IT support is not required.

In this way, low-code applications can typically be implemented up to 10 times faster and at a significantly lower cost than with conventional programming.

Citizen Developer – what lies behind the designation?

Citizen developers are software developers who have no special programming skills or IT training. They are being used more and more, for example, to relieve internal or external IT departments of the burden of creating and maintaining applications. Low-code development offers great opportunities and proves that complex apps can be developed without programming skills.

It is ideal if the specialist department, with its extensive knowledge in the respective business field, itself becomes active as a citizen developer. This helps to avoid misunderstandings in the implementation of business requirements and to ensure the practicality of the app.

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Citizen Developers

Applications that Citizen Developers can create with no-code or low-code

In addition to low-code development platforms, there are also no-code tools nowadays. However, not every type of application can be realized using no-code tools. No-code tools are typically recommended above all for applications that relate to a specific function. Therefore, always pay attention in advance to what goals you are pursuing with the app. Also, future function extensions could possibly be restricted by a no-code platform or even result in a new implementation if the changes become too complex. That’s why low-code platforms offer so-called user exits, which can be used to implement quite complex programming logic for the applications using pro-code, for example HTML, Java, or JavaScript. With high-end low-code development platforms, Citizen Developers can realize any complex applications, including industrial business solutions and IoT apps, up to 95% via no-code. The remaining business logic can be implemented with just a few lines of code.

Success factor: Low-Code and Citizen Development

The decisive success factor in application development is therefore the combination of low-code platforms plus citizen development to keep up with this rapid pace of innovation.

This is confirmed by Gartner in its Emerging Technology and Trends Impact Radar 2021, which lists a low-code development platform as one of the most emerging technologies on par with AI and as one of the most important business enablers.

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Source: Gartner – Emerging Technology and Trends Impact Radar 2021

The key factors are, on one hand, that development is many times faster than with conventional programming methods and on the other hand, that citizen development is used. Forbes also states that low-code in combination with citizen development is the strongest disruptive trend in 2021.

Low-code and Citizen Development are not only worthwhile for smaller companies or project groups. Especially in large-scale projects and companies with several hundred employees, Citizen Development is often an unavoidable necessity in order to be able to implement applications despite a global lack of IT specialists. According to Gartner, the number of these citizen developers is expected to exceed that of professional software developers by a factor of four by 2023, at least in large companies.


What is the competitive advantage of a Low-Code Platform for Citizen Development?

  • Acceleration of the Digital Transformation and Company Growth

Low-code accelerates digital transformation and company growth by reducing the resources and time required to develop digital solutions. Today, anyone, regardless of their technical skills, can develop applications and thus contribute to accelerating digital transformation and increasing company growth.

Combined with the latest technologies, such as prescriptive low-code, which generates complete application functions, the effort required to realize new applications is reduced by up to 90%.

  • Workload Reduction

Low-code platforms are predestined to automate manual and thus error-prone activities. Particularly in the case of simple, repetitive activities, an app can be created within days or hours using low-code and thus provide direct relief in the event of an overload.

With only a short training period, such simple applications can be implemented by a Citizen Developer without any IT support at all, which provides additional relief for IT.

  • High Security Measures

Typically, low-code platforms are GDPR compliant and ISO 27001 and 27701 certified. They, therefore, fulfill the basic security requirements.

Particularly, in view of the fact that more and more applications are being implemented by citizen developers, some low-code platforms offer additional security measures. These include access rights to sensitive implementation components and their deployment in production, the prevention of SQL injection or the detection of security risks in code snippets.

  • Elimination of the shortage of IT-Specialists

In particular, the short training period of a few days or weeks in low-code platforms favors that more and more companies hire employees without IT skills for application development to meet the shortage of skilled workers.

  • IT-Business Alignment without Media Break

Low-code platforms support IT-business alignment by enabling application development by business, IT and other stakeholders on a common platform. Some platforms also offer a collaboration feature to discuss the implementation of the graphical elements.

  • Maximum Agility

The benefits mentioned up to this point already result in a high level of agility thanks to the rapid response to changes. In addition, modern low-code platforms today offer a microservice-based application architecture. They thus enable the exchange of individual application functions. Instead of a tedious generation of the application with a subsequent shutdown or server restart after deployment, a microservice can be exchanged directly and on-the-fly.

10 points from which you benefit even more with a Low-Code Platform and Citizen Development

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High-Code vs. Low-Code

To make programming easy even for technically interested laymen, you should pay particular attention to the following points when selecting a low-code platform.

The Low-Code Platform …

  1. … guarantees a short training period due to the intuitive user interface
    Due to the predominant graphical programming, these tools can be designed to be particularly user-friendly and intuitive, so that nothing stands in the way of rapid familiarization. In addition, most manufacturers provide comprehensive tutorials and videos for self-training by the prospective Citizen Developer or organize training courses.

  2. … supports the error-free implementation
    The tools come up with context-sensitive and dynamic validations that support you in error-free implementation. Already during the input via drag-and-drop, you are informed if two elements do not harmonize with each other or if other incompatibilities occur.
  • … offers seamless integration into the existing system architecture
    A low-code platform is rarely deployed on a greenfield site. The low-code platform, therefore, offers the simple and seamless integration of applications into the existing IT infrastructure and thus avoids the emergence of shadow IT.
  • … speeds up the realization of applications of any complexity  
    A high-end low-code platform contains powerful elements to realize extensive functions via no-code. This allows Citizen Developers to realize even complex web apps, mobile apps, or core enterprise apps without a single line of code in the shortest possible time. Based on this, a Citizen Developer with some experience can implement the advanced business logic at any time by himself or in cooperation with an experienced developer using simple JavaScript.
  • … enables error handling for robust applications
    In order to realize robust applications, technical and business errors must be distinguished and adequately processed. For this purpose, the platform must include full-stack exception handling via no-code and multilingual error messages. This reduces the usual complexity of exception handling to a simple drag-and-drop. Citizen Developers are thus able to implement robust applications from the ground up that react correctly, especially in the event of errors.
  • … guarantees consistent development through full-stack refactoring
    If you make changes to the created app by renaming or deleting elements or data, it can have an impact in very many places of your application. A manual correction can quickly be incomplete or lead to errors that are difficult to find. Full-stack refactoring provides a remedy by automatically synchronizing all modifications without changing or affecting functionality.
  • … is also suitable for large-scale projects

The platform is not only suitable for small project teams, but also for large-scale projects. Thus, large-scale projects can be modularized into subprojects and realized by different teams. Subprojects are particularly suitable for reusable components, e.g., for the integration of external systems, which of course provide the corresponding functions via no-code for easy use by Citizen Developers.

  • … supports agile software development

Using integrated graphical issue management, developers implement requirements and user stories directly on the relevant element. Bugs are also created directly on the affected graphical element to accelerate bug fixing. In this way and by means of an integrated Kanban board, agile software development according to Scrum is supported by the platform.

  • … offers extensive user authorizations
    Especially due to general app security, it is essential to be able to assign access rights to projects and individual models as granularly as possible. Therefore, each developer only sees the elements and data that are relevant to the respective task. Access to sensitive components can thus be made available only to authorized developers. A version management system also ensures that all changes can be tracked by the user. Deployment and administration of the development, test and production environments are also subject to such authorization structures.
  1. … supports fusion teams through governance and controlling
    Teams from Citizen Development and IT are referred to by Gartner as “Fusion Teams” and will be essential for agile business and disruption in the future. However, they require special attention to governance and controlling measures. Ideally, the platform should offer supporting mechanisms with corresponding audit options.
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Source: Gartner

Nowadays, low-code and citizen development are among the most important and current corporate movements. To this end, it is generally advisable to establish a center of excellence for citizen development in order to provide best practices and templates, for example, as well as support, governance and control. This enables business departments and project managers to create applications for the first time without being completely dependent on the IT department. It is also implemented at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional programming methods.

Secure your competitiveness and discover the benefits that arise when Citizen Developers work with low-code technology!