You lead a team in IT, tasked with delivering changes requested by the business operations team to several critical processes they work with. Months lapse, and as you sit in the update meeting, giving another spiel on why it’s taking so long, you’re starting to feel like a chicken thrown into a den of very hungry lions. Your sense of frustration is rising as you struggle to manage business expectations with your IT reality.
Now imagine that same meeting, only this time you are from the business side of the operation, and you are requesting these same changes. While your team has managed to identify changes, time is of the essence to implement your improvements, not least as some of them are customer-facing. What was regarded as an opportunity is quickly becoming a missed opportunity, and possibly a serious deficiency which is morphing into a threat. Are you feeling a sense of frustration with IT and concern over the needs of the business not being met and the implications this has?
Truth is, it is a rare situation where delivery of requirements from IT to the business is free of frustration. However, process development and management is a key component of digital transformation, which itself is a critical component of modern competitiveness.
Frustration invariably reigns on both sides of the divide.
For all the talk of Lean, Agile, Six Sigma, and so on, making changes to business automation systems can be a heavy lift for IT departments. IT departments are frequently overstretched, without enough resources to complete discretionary projects when more than 80% of their budget is automatically allocated to maintaining and operating existing infrastructure.
What is left is typically fought over by competing requirements, most notably the overriding issues of IT security, Big Data and Digital Transformation generally.
As much as the business operations side of the table wants IT to move much faster and be more responsive to the needs of the business, IT departments are effectively shackled by technology and resource constraints. While IT departments want to deliver to their internal customers as quickly as everyone would like them to, there is a gap between customer expectations and reality for IT.
How do we tackle this?
The Rise of the Citizen Developer
The Citizen Developer is the regular, ordinary business person who doesn’t have IT skills, but wants to get stuff done that otherwise requires IT support.
The Citizen Developer is the business analyst who sees an opportunity to improve process performance if workflow can route from A to Z, but now bypassing B, however they do not have the coding skills to make that change in the automation platform.
The Citizen Developer does not have, or at least does not need, the coding or development skills typically required to make changes to business automation systems. They are the non-technical people who make up the bulk of our organizations: operations people, accountants, business analysts, supervisors, marketing, compliance officers, HR, sales and marketing, junior and senior executives and pretty much everyone else in your business outside of IT.
What these people want to do is create business applications themselves, in a simple environment which is safe and secure, and which they can maintain and use themselves. This frees IT from needing to hold their hands every step of the way, relegating themselves to simply making sure the environment is secured and properly integrated with other business systems.
When a change is required to be implemented, the business team can make it themselves rather than knocking on the IT department’s door with a bowl in hand.
How Do We Empower the Citizen Developer?
Empowerment means providing the tools, motivation, training and resources to get something done.
For the Citizen Developer, this means providing a platform for the creation of business applications that they can use themselves, but which is fully customizable and configurable to how they believe the business should be running.
Business Process Management (BPM) tools have diverged between big, heavy, highly reliant on IT solutions (typically offered by IBM, Oracle, and Pega) through to the Low Code variants (Appian, Bizagi). However, both of these approaches have failed to deliver total control over process improvement to business users. At some point, a coder and IT support is required once you get down to fundamental levels of process management, otherwise your business and people are either waiting on a huge set of changes to be implemented, or must follow preset templates from the BPM provider which are not easily changed, if at all.
Technology has moved ahead, and a further variant of BPM has emerged: No Code Application Development or Lean BPM.
While Low Code BPM has sought to reduce the requirement for coding and dev skills, it still requires coding and dev skills to be able to wrangle the full value from the tool, and this is also its Achilles Heel – if you need dev and coding skills to be deployed, this ramps up time and cost, reducing business performance and delivery of ROI.
No Code platforms eliminate the need for coding and dev skills to deploy and operate the platform, with the only caveat that if you are integrating with other business systems you may need to involve IT. In practice, a business user can be trained in the tools operation in a very short period of time (2-3 days) and they are then able to function as Administrator.
Administrators are able to make and publish changes to business processes and applications, including creating new processes and apps from scratch.
No Code Platforms are Built for Citizen Developers.
Citizen Developers have detailed knowledge of the business or area within which they operate, and can articulate their processes, even if this is simply drawing them out on a whiteboard or piece of paper. This is as far as the typical business person is able to get to with their processes once change is required – at this point, IT or third-party partners must get involved.
A No Code Developer is not so restricted.
Citizen Developers can do all of the following and much more:
- Create customized forms and change them at will in minutes;
- Create and modify workflows, including interdepartmental processes flowing through the business from front- to back-office;
- Create and automate report preparation and distribution;
- Establish alerts and notifications for escalation to the appropriate person or department; and
- Create and enforce business policies and compliance rules by baking them into processes
The key point here is that a Citizen Developer is able to execute on changes that are identified, without the aid of specialist coders or developers, whether sourced from IT or a third-party vendor.
The upshot of this is that while a traditional or low-code BPM platform is being spun up for changes, the Lean BPM platform has already implemented them and is now gathering real-world, real-time data on what the changes in outputs are, and whether an improvement has truly been achieved. Faster reiteration means faster improvements to business processes, and this translates into enhanced performance and competitive advantage.
Why the Citizen Developer is the IT Department’s New Best Friend
From an operational or transactional standpoint, the Citizen Developer being able to quickly execute process creation and change, and then reiterate, leads to process excellence. The business is happy.
But what is in this for the IT department?
At first blush, IT departments are going to be concerned at the thought of unqualified, inexperienced people running amok with a business automation platform, tied into other business systems, poking holes in the network perimeter and generally being managed by someone other than IT.
In rarer instances, there may even be some territorialism at play, with IT seeing something being taken from their control, budget and oversight.
But for the vast majority of IT departments, the emergence of the Citizen Developer and the use of No Code or Lean BPM to empower them delivers some surprising advantages and benefits.
First, supporting such a solution is not within IT’s wheelhouse – the business supports the solution themselves. All IT is doing is either standing up a server on premise for the platform to operate (If this is a SaaS instance, they have no need to be involved), and possibly handling integration work on deployment if this is required. [In practice, it is typical to find IT people involved in the selection and deployment process for a ‘sanity’ check, and to collaborate on issues such as integration.]
User support requests are dealt with internally within the business unit, or are typically built-in by the provider as part of the cost of providing the solution. Remember, responsibility for making and creating change within the platform lies in the hands of the Administrators/Citizen Developers, who live within the business unit and not within the IT team. If there is a complex integration, there may be a need for IT support as it pertains to the business systems already under IT’s umbrella, but that is where the support burden will cease.
Secondly, there is the very big issue of security, particularly where a platform is passing traffic through the network perimeter, and/or providing mobile access. If the deployment is On Premises, then the server will sit within your own datacenter, wherever you have that situated, and your existing security protections will be in place. A SaaS version will typically offer an equivalent or higher security protection level, particularly if the same platform is being used by government customers, or businesses operating in a highly regulated arena, such as financial services or healthcare.
The Lean BPM solution itself should also be providing a built-in level of security, including the use of Role-Based Permissions, Active Directory integration, and customization of security options out-of-the-box. A Lean BPM solution will also typically meet compliance and security standards such as Sarbanes Oxley, NIST 800-53, SAS 70, ISO, ITIL, and so on.
Thirdly, the cost of Lean BPM platforms does vary, however they will typically cost around 20-30% of a traditional BPM solution. This cost does not come from IT’s budget, nor does the need to support the solution create any hidden costs that IT must cover, through increased head count for instance. The solution cost comes out of the budget of the business, or business units utilizing the solution, with IT’s costs restricted to provision and maintenance of a server if there is an On Premises deployment.
The outcome from an IT perspective of allowing Citizen Developers to operate within their organization is straight forward.
The business gets a process management and optimization platform which is responsive and agile enough to meet their needs. The need for IT to deliver change is practically removed, as are the explicit and implicit costs of operating the solution. Responsibility for the delivery of results from the platform is never IT’s to hold, and the blame game of change not being delivered fast enough by IT is removed in its entirety.
Re-imagine our initial meeting we started with: such a meeting never takes place in a No Code or Lean BPM environment. In a Lean BPM environment, the business itself is responsible for delivering change and has the power to directly make changes itself. The business is now responsible for how well it performs, and for its successes and failures, while IT simply provides a safe, secure environment within which the Citizen Developer can play.