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Why Should CIOs And IT Managers Be Aware Of Citizen Development?

Team Kissflow

Updated on 21 Mar 2024 3 min read

In recent years, organizations looking to build more digital capabilities have been investing more in citizen development. By leveraging no-code and low-code platforms, these organizations are empowering non-technical employees to build applications useful to various departments within an organization.

According to a Gartner survey, “41%[1] of respondents said they have active citizen development initiatives in place while 20% are already evaluating the prospects of starting their own citizen development initiatives.”

Traditionally, the responsibility of building apps that drive innovations and solve business problems falls on the IT teams under the supervision of IT managers and CIOs. However, as more organizations look to unlock citizen developers as part of their digital transformation efforts, it raises the question of what role CIOs and IT managers will play in this drive and why they are an important part of this drive.

What is citizen development?

To fully understand the role of CIOs and IT managers in citizen development, we have to know what citizen development is.

Citizen development is a framework that encourages non-IT employees (also known as business users) to build business apps using low code/no code platforms that are sanctioned by IT. This approach drives innovation by empowering business users to make changes to existing business applications or create new ones without burdening IT departments.

There’s no doubt that citizen development is beneficial in a lot of ways. It provides a heightened level of agility to the app development process and reduces backlog significantly. Also, by empowering people that are closest to the problems to solve them directly, solutions are more efficient, streamlined, and future-proof.

But while democratizing the technology and innovation process like this sounds like a great idea, it can potentially cause issues in the long run, especially for the CIO and IT managers that are directly responsible for the technology infrastructure of any organization. They do have a valuable role to play not just in ensuring that citizen development initiatives succeed but also to make sure it is done correctly.

Role of CIOs and IT managers in citizen development

Democratizing the app development process by enabling non-IT users to build an app sounds like a simple idea. But it comes with a lot of hurdles that can cause major problems in an organization if not properly handled. Distributing IT work to non-technical people and segregating enterprise data will meet some resistance from top-level executives that will have to approve it.

Then there’s the challenge of getting IT and non-IT employees onboard. The responsibility of synergizing the various aspects of citizen developer initiatives often falls on the CIO or IT manager in an organization.

Here are some reasons why they must know more about citizen development, all the benefits it offers, and be more involved in it:




1. Get buy-in from high-level executives

According to Gartner, 87%[2] of senior business leaders say digitalization is a priority. But this does not mean they’ll always be on board with citizen development initiatives. In fact, one of the major causes of failure in digital transformation initiatives is the lack of buy-in from high-level executives within an organization.

The CEO, board members, and other key decision-makers within an organization will only trust technology projects sanctioned by the CIO or IT manager who can effectively communicate the potential benefits of adopting a citizen development approach to them.

Learn more: How Does Citizen Development Facilitate Digital Transformation?

2. Put the “citizen” in citizen development

The so-called citizens that are being empowered to build their own apps may not always want these apps. They were not primarily hired to perform such tasks and may not be hyped about it. Only a fraction of non-IT employees will be naturally interested in taking up app development. It’ll take effort from the IT manager to get them onboard with creating technology and not just using it.

According to Mckinsey, 70%[3] of digital transformations fail, most often due to resistance from employees. Even in cases where employees are already using some form of technology to simplify their tasks, CIOs will still have to encourage the adoption of low-code technology that introduces a different level of innovation to how they work.

Like the high-level decision-makers, employees must understand the benefits of citizen development, and only an IT manager that is fully aware of these benefits can sell the platform to them.

3. Foster collaboration between IT teams and citizen developers

Doing citizen development without involving IT will only lead to Shadow IT (a dangerous form of IT that can open the door to various security and IT infrastructure challenges). The CIO will have to serve as the much-needed bridge that encourages cooperation between the traditional IT team and the citizen developers.

This ensures that business users are creating apps that are compliant with established IT policies as well as the performance and security requirements as determined by the IT department. The two groups cannot work in isolation or the desired transformational impact will not be achieved.

4. Showcase the benefits to IT teams

Some sort of animosity is expected between traditional IT and citizen developers. Many would consider citizen development an unwanted invasion into their space and would resist such changes. It is the responsibility of the CIO to show these people that citizen development can be beneficial to them as well.

This includes showing them how low-code platforms can free them from the responsibilities of building apps that citizen developers can build on their own and allow them to focus on more important and challenging issues within the organization.

Learn more: How Citizen Development Unites Business and IT


Contrary to the popular misconception, citizen development is not a replacement for IT. In fact, IT still plays a critical role in providing governance for citizen development initiatives. Regardless of how apps are built CIOs and IT managers are responsible for ensuring the security, compliance, and integration of an organization’s entire IT ecosystem.

This means they have to be aware and on board with citizen development initiatives as they serve as vital bridge-builders that connect all the stakeholders involved in digital transformation in one way or another.