7 ways the CIO and citizen developer can become BFFs

Image by Cole Hutson via Unsplash

It’s no secret that IT staffs are overstretched today leaving gaps in services for internal customers. This fact of life has given rise to the citizen developer. Gartner and other industry watchers define a citizen developer as a business user who creates business applications for others using low-code development platforms. They may or may not have IT’s blessing for the apps.

A citizen developer has a lot to offer a budget-strapped CIO, but citizen developers going wild can raise internal threats to enterprise security and data governance. Here are some ways both can work together to both benefit the business:

1. Bring shadow IT out of the shadows

To me, there’s a direct correlation between citizen developers and shadow IT in some enterprises. The story usually starts out with a business unit feeling they are underserved by IT, a mid-level manger or employee produces a credit card, they find their own technology solution, and then file an expense report The CIO and IT department may not even know the solution is live until there’s an issue. When CIOs and citizen developers acknowledge each other’s existence, they can become allies for using technology to solve business problems that may not command attention and resources from the IT department.

2. Incentivize citizen developers for good

A CIO has the executive pull to incentivize citizen developers for good. Incentives could take the form of the company picking up the expenses for licensing or subscription for low-code development platforms freeing the citizen developer from having to file an expense report. The CIO could also work with department managers to have the extra work that a citizen developer does by creating apps to rank positively on performance reviews and qualify them for bonuses.

3. Create a user community

While it’s not up to the CIO to manage citizen developers, both CIO and citizen developer would benefit from creating an internal user community around citizen-developed apps. It doesn’t have to be anything formal mind you but a friendly in-person or online chat where citizen developers, users, and the CIO can trade ideas and give constructive feedback to each other about:

· App development

· User Interface (UI)

· User Experience (UX)

4. Work together to change culture and mindsets

Back when I wrote about low-code development for the first time, I saw the promise of the technology to resolve department and team-level business and technology pain points that were big to the business but not enough to get IT department resources.

Then I saw it as a potential threat to some developer egos, governance, and security, if citizen developers were left to run wild in some corporate cultures.

It’s up to the CIO and the citizen developers to work together to help change culture and mindsets around business units developing their own apps. This change is only going to happen if the CIO and citizen developers work together to build a culture where citizen-developed apps solve business issues and fill gaps that IT can’t serve due to budget and staffing issues. IT and the citizen developers should both know their lanes and at which points to collaborate with one another.

5. Plan for app management together

Some proponents of low-code development platforms point to their ease of management. On paper, that’s true, but the reality of the citizen developer is that they also have a day job. They could be an accountant, administrative staff, or a knowledge worker who created their business app to meet a need they encountered that IT couldn’t fulfill.

A CIO can also be a mentor when it comes to app management. Even though a citizen-developed app comes from outside of the IT department, users still deserve the app to be maintained, so it becomes a necessity to put together a simple management plan that includes:

· Release plan for new app features

· Polish the app onboarding process

· Backup for the citizen developer if they leave the company

6. Make security and data governance a team sport

Citizen developers and the CIO need to find a middle ground about app security and data governance. An enterprise app store is a great first step for citizen developer security.

The presence of the CIO in the user community can get citizen developers access to security and governance mentoring and expertise. The CIO and citizen developers can also collaborate on a response plan to security issues in citizen-developed apps.

7. Capture App knowledge collaboratively

Workers get promoted. People leave the company. Reorganizations reshape departments. The CIO and citizen developer can help each other by collaborating on capturing knowledge around citizen-developed apps that are in use around the enterprise. The CIO can open up resources like the service desk knowledge base for publishing help information about citizen-developed apps.

CIO + Citizen developer as BFFs

A low-code app future can help CIOs and business users alike. CIOs can use their development resources on more strategic (and dare I say billable) projects. Citizen developers can have a greater influence over apps their department uses to solve business problems. In the end, both parties need each other to be successful in the eyes of the end users.


Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

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