How “citizen developers” are driving the next wave of rapid app development initiatives

As applications have become more critical to business success, enterprise developers are under more pressure to deliver useful apps in a more timely fashion. There may be a solution to alleviating that stress (at least a little bit). Enter the citizen developer.

Using rapid application development (RAD) tools, tech-savvy business users are beginning to take up the mantle of the app developer. Using “low code” or “no code” user interfaces, business users can create simple business applications, leaving professional enterprise app developers to tackle more complicated and demanding projects.

According to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, many enterprises are taking an interest in the idea of the citizen developer to support their bring your own app (BYOA) initiatives. King noted they “see them as a cheap, easy way to improve business functionality that also allows professional developers to tackle more complex tasks.”

It’s still a new concept and in its early stages of adoption, but King said some enterprises see BYOA and the citizen developer as the next logical extension to the bring your own device (BYOD) trend.

“We’ve seen employee-led IT ‘revolutions’ since the 1980s, when people smuggled their own PCs into the workplace. Citizen developers are merely the latest iteration of those efforts,” King said.

“Still an early adopter trend”

Vijay Pullur, founder and CEO of RAD tool developer WaveMaker, agreed that it’s still an early adopter trend. WaveMaker’s tools are mostly used by developers to speed up their simple application development initiatives, but Pullur said he has seen enterprise business users make use of RAD tools to create temporary applications.

For instance, using a RAD tool, accompanying REST APIs and standard templates, business users are getting access to data using what Pullar called “slice and dice analytics.” It’s not so much about creating applications today as it is about creating dashboards that enable business users to query existing corporate databases, he said.

WaveMaker and other RAD vendors expect that to change over time. Citizen developers could not only take pressure off enterprise developers but also speed time to release for simple business applications.

“[Users are] getting a lot more frustrated that it also takes a lot more time and the applications are not getting developed as fast as they need. How can they get their hands into making this happen? That’s where we address the need for citizen developers to write applications,” Pullur said.

RAD tools = learning curve

There’s a learning curve associated with RAD tools, but with some training and help from either application developers or vendors, business users can begin to use drag-and-drop interfaces to craft applications without any knowledge of traditional coding methods, Pullur said.

RAD tools aim to simplify application development by providing layout and interface templates to make it even easier for business users to create new apps, King said.

“Many also include pre-written code for advanced features, like geolocation and other services, that the citizen developer can drag/drop as needed,” King said.

The citizen developer isn’t a common presence in the enterprise yet. Pullur believes the increased pressure to get applications written and into production will drive the movement, but it’s going to take time.

“Although the long-term view of this is a lot of the load gets taken off and a lot of applications can be developed easily, the market is in the early stages. It has not reached the stage where real applications that also have a longer-term utility or a longer-term need are being developed [by citizen developers],” Pullur said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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