Embracing Citizen Development: A Strategic Move for IT Leaders

By Jim Hutcherson, VP, Low-Code/No-Code COE

Organizations continually search for ways to innovate in today’s rapidly evolving business environment. As IT leaders, the push for digital transformation includes the need for efficient and effective solutions. One such approach gaining momentum is citizen development.

In this article, we discuss why IT should support citizen development, how it can reduce the impact of shadow IT, what controls are necessary, and when IT should be involved.

The Case for Citizen Development 

Citizen development (CD) is a term used to describe the creation of business applications by non-IT users or “citizen developers.” This approach leverages the power of low-code/no-code (LC/NC) platforms, empowering business users to create simple applications to automate workflows, manage data, and streamline operations. With the ever-growing demand for solutions, CD helps alleviate the strain on IT, allowing them to focus on more strategic and higher-value initiatives.

Tackling the Shadow IT Threat 

Shadow IT refers to the technologies and systems employees use without the knowledge or approval of their organization’s IT department. Shadow IT can create security, data privacy, and compliance risks, as these services may not have the necessary protections to keep company data secure. Organizations can mitigate these risks by offering a controlled environment where business users can develop applications under the IT’s supervision. This collaborative approach allows IT to enforce best practices and maintain oversight without overburdening IT resources.

The Need for Controls and Governance 

While CD provides numerous benefits, it poses potential challenges like data security and compliance risks. To ensure successful implementation, IT must establish a clear governance framework that outlines policies, procedures, and guidelines. This framework should include the following:

  • A centralized application development platform.
  • Proper training and education for citizen developers.
  • Application lifecycle management and approval processes.
  • A clear boundary between IT and non-IT development efforts.

Maintaining the framework for CD is vital to its success. After implementing a centralized application development platform, the organization must create a set of standards and guidelines that will govern the creation and use of applications, ensuring that they are consistent, secure, compliant, and reliable. IT should be responsible for establishing the framework and training citizen developers. The framework includes defining roles, permissions, and responsibilities, and outlining application management processes such as lifecycle management and approvals.

Additionally, IT should develop procedures for securely managing application data, such as encryption or access control lists. A set of policies must also be put in place to ensure compliance with laws and regulations relevant to an organization’s industry. Finally, IT should implement ongoing monitoring to ensure adherence to these standards and identify potential security risks quickly. By taking these measures, organizations can ensure the successful implementation of CD frameworks while mitigating any potential risks associated with shadow IT.

Identifying the Right Time for IT Involvement 

To balance the efficiency of CD with organizational risk, IT must determine the most appropriate times to step in and assist throughout the development process. A few criteria to consider when deciding on IT involvement include:

Complexity: Consult IT when the complexity of applications increases, and custom coding is necessary.

Integration: Involve IT when integration with other systems is required to ensure seamless and secure connectivity.

Security and Compliance: Require IT review when applications handle sensitive information or have potential legal and regulatory implications.

Scaling: Partner with IT for applications that scale across the organization or require more significant infrastructure optimization and management resources.

An example of requiring IT involvement is an application for managing patient records. This type of application requires more complex coding as it must securely store sensitive information and integrate it with other systems, such as billing systems. Additionally, since this application must adhere to HIPAA regulations, IT should be involved in the development process to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations. The application should also scale across the organization, so IT can help optimize infrastructure resources while providing guidance on best practices for deploying and managing applications across an enterprise environment.

Finally, the user experience should be carefully considered when designing a system like this; security measures should not interfere with usability. By involving IT throughout the process and establishing a clear governance framework, organizations can create effective solutions that meet security and compliance requirements while providing users with intuitive functionality.

Building a Culture of Collaboration 

Lastly, developing a collaborative culture between IT and business users is essential to promoting open communication and feedback. Communication enables IT to guide and mentor citizen developers and establish a shared understanding of business needs and requirements. Encourage regular check-ins, knowledge sharing, and continuous improvement by fostering a symbiotic partnership that benefits the organization.

Establishing regular check-ins and knowledge-sharing sessions is an excellent example of building a collaborative culture. Additionally, IT can provide ongoing support and feedback to ensure that applications meet all relevant security and compliance requirements. By creating an environment of collaboration, IT teams can help business users build better solutions while keeping the organization safe from unwanted risks.

By taking these measures, organizations can successfully implement CD frameworks and create quality applications in a timely and secure manner. By balancing CD efforts with oversight from IT, organizations can ensure that applications are correctly designed and deployed with minimal risk. With the proper precautions, it can be a great way to create practical solutions while quickly nurturing innovation within the organization.


Citizen development presents a practical approach to help reduce IT backlog and empower business users within the organization. By carefully managing the risks associated with CD and fostering a culture of collaboration, IT can position itself as a strategic partner, better equipped to deliver on the promise of digital transformation. Ultimately, embracing the CD concepts will increase efficiency and innovation and improve customer experiences, enabling organizations to thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Contact an Octo team member for more information on how we can implement end-to-end citizen development, best practices, and modern approaches to your federal agency.