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With a shortage of available developers, companies are considering low-code methods to meet massive application development needs. As a result, by 2024, citizen developers will be responsible for 65% of applications, Gartner predicted. So, if technical ability rises across the board, will application development become an expected skillset for tomorrow’s digital workers? And if so, when?
“Application development will become a normal competency,” said John Bratincevic, senior analyst, Forrester. Bratincevic recently gave a talk at the Rethinking “How” into “Who” with Low-Code event, presented by TrackVia.
I asked Bratincevic to dive deeper into how application development is becoming democratized. In short, the low-code movement has permanently altered expectations around who can be involved in application development. To him and others within the industry, leveling up with citizen development knowledge could be vital to retaining a competitive advantage in the future digital-native workplace.
The Undigital Condition
As more and more companies digitally transform, they are evolving into software companies. In this new paradigm, “software is an expression of the business,” says Bratincevic. Yet, most organizations have not entirely digitally transformed. According to Forrester’s Q1 2020 Global Digital Process Automation Survey, 76% of companies still rely on paper-based processes, and 94% use Excel or email-based processes.
Unfortunately, developer talent is too few and far between to rectify this “undigital condition,” and existing IT teams are struggling to keep pace with demands for more software-based processes. Too often, teams are told to get in line and wait for experts to develop software when they can, said Bratincevic. This gap results in a less adaptive structure that limits new ideas.
“All organizations are probably, to some degree, adaptive, but their improvement and adaptation are typically only periodic and conducted by specialists,” wrote Mike Rother, Toyota Kata. “In other words, such organizations are not, by their nature, adaptive.”
A New Generation of Citizen Developers
The old model is not realistic anymore, said Bratincevic. Instead, a new generation of citizen developers could use no-code and low-code platforms to program operational tasks themselves. These tools use visual, declarative techniques instead of programming and are “empowering employees outside of IT to delver apps,” Bratincevic said.
So what is the demographic behind citizen development? Reports show that younger, digital-native employees are more likely to use low-code platforms. According to the TrackVia report The Next Generation Worker: The Citizen Developer, 50% of citizen developers are 18 to 29 years old. The study also found that citizen developers are 13% more likely to expect promotions, correlating citizen development experience to career advancement.
In this projected economy, “digital elites” seem well-positioned to progress, whereas others are in dire straits. “Knowledge workers with simpler, more focused roles (e.g., a “coordinator”) and without digital skills are at risk,” said Bratincevic. Thankfully, low-code could offer a practical way to enter the tech field and increase job security.
Leveling Up From Productivity Tools
Today’s average worker is quite familiar with personal productivity apps such as email, social communications, calculations and other consumer technologies. Just as productivity tools have become commonplace, Bratincevic predicts that application development will become a standard skillset in the future.
Other IT leaders agree that coding literacy will soon become ubiquitous. Apple CEO Tim Cook, for example, recently emphasized to the U.S. president that “we believe strongly that it should be a requirement in the United States for every kid to have coding [education] before they graduate from K–12 and become somewhat proficient at it.”
Application development may become a typical proficiency; however, the exact nature of software development is up for debate — especially as development environments add more abstraction layers to the lower stack that only involve programming languages indirectly. For example, Bratincevic describes how those learning to code often use a service like code.org, which involves low-code tooling and games to help educate students. “I see the same pattern for the adult professionals in the workforce,” he said.
Future application development may not even resemble programming in the traditional sense. “Once ‘development’ on these kinds of tools becomes ubiquitous, we may not even call it application development anymore,” Bratincevic said. “It will just be — work.”
Goals for Citizen Developer Programs
According to an Outsystems report, 20% of companies adopted low-code to enable citizen developers to construct applications. “One of the main reasons firms are buying low-code is to enable non-IT folks to develop,” noted Bratincevic. “I routinely get inquiries from enterprises who are looking to accomplish this very thing, at scale in their organizations.” In particular, he notes apps of substance being created within health care, vehicle manufacturing, oil and gas and insurance industries.
It appears more and more organizations are sanctioning a new wave of citizen developers. So what goals should these new citizen development programs aim to achieve? Bratincevic shared the following benchmarks:
- Digitize. Everything. Always: Foster a digital problem-solving culture and develop a digital workforce.
- Balance autonomy and control: Citizen developers shouldn’t have to ask permission to make a spreadsheet. Yet, guardrails are necessary for more far-reaching programs.
- Take charge as privateers: He recommends organizations start by adopting an autonomous, business-led team, which he calls a Privateer model.
Low-code could also help bring shadowy, rogue IT to light and rehabilitate it in a sanctioned way.
The Era of Low-Code
In 2021, the low-code market is estimated at $13.8 billion, said Gartner. SD Times even coined 2021 the “year of low-code.” But, since the citizen developer movement has permanently raised the bar, I would edit this statement to say we have entered the era of low-code.
For more information and case studies on citizen development, I recommend watching the panel webinar Citizen Developer Movement with Forrester: Rethinking “How” into “Who” with Low-Code. In addition to John Bratincevic, it features Dave Garret, chief strategy and growth officer, PMI, (who I’ve spoken with in the past on How To Foster a Culture of Citizen Developers) and Joshua Yaklin, SVP of operational risk, Stearns Lending.