Imagine if the business users and workflow managers don’t have to rely on the Automation Center of Excellence (CoE) or IT anymore to create their own automations. In this article we explore how every employee in the firm can become a citizen developer and what are the four key principles that companies need to carefully consider in order for the Citizen Developer framework to co-exist with their existing Intelligent Process Automation CoE.
Traditionally, Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) CoE has been responsible for building bots and laying out the governance framework for automation build. Experienced developers follow these defined guidelines to build attended and unattended bots to be used in the enterprise.
To automate a workflow, a business user typically needs to submit a request to the automation CoE, which goes through discovery and feasibility process, and if approved, is added to the existing book of work. Depending upon how full the book of work is, workflow might not be automated until the next couple of weeks or months. This has proven to be a bottleneck for business users and application managers who want to quickly take advantage of automation capabilities.
This is where the Citizen Development concept can help organization expand their automation reach by empowering business users to automate daily tasks, thus improving business efficiency. In the next few paragraphs, we will understand this framework and the key principle required to make it a success.
Who is a Citizen Developer?
A Citizen Developer is a non-professional developer and a business user, who has little or no coding experience. With varied coding experiences, these employees with a thorough understanding of business needs have built bots through no-code and low-code programs. They are typically used to automate tasks that are high volume, repetitive, or rule based. They carry the benefits of being highly efficient, auditable, recordable, scalable, and have minimal processing errors. E.g. Bot to fill timesheet every Wednesday.
The citizen developer framework has been steadily gaining traction in the last several years through the increase in software awareness and digital transformation. Intelligent Process Automation (e.g., Robotic Process Automation) has accelerated digital transformation and has helped companies create a digital workforce that fuels end-to-end automation.
When compared with an Intelligent Process Automation CoE, citizen developer framework is primarily driven as a bottom-up approach. Traditionally, IPA bots have been built by Intelligent Process Automation CoE with experienced developers. The citizen developer framework disrupts this status quo by promoting independent development. Due to the minimal published guidance on its impacts, this article serves to fill the knowledge gap by presenting 4 key dimensions companies must consider and define when determining how this framework might impact them and their employees.
Key Dimensions to Consider for Intelligent Process Automation Citizen Developer Framework
The following four key dimensions of Organization, Governance, Change Management, and Work Culture must be considered when evaluating the impacts of Intelligent Automation citizen developer framework on employees and the organization. It is meant to serve as a guide for anyone who is looking to implement this framework and assess their company’s capability to manage this change.
The Citizen Developer framework needs to co-exist with the existing Intelligent Process Automation CoE, which typically comprises of experienced developers. On the other hand, any employee in the organization who possesses the aptitude and inclination can become a citizen developer irrespective of their coding experience. However, a framework needs to be defined to ensure the success of every citizen developer.
Among other things, this framework should define minimal starter training required for new citizen developers. Setting the level at which citizen developers can reach is vital for promoting clarity and focusing efforts. In some cases, the line between citizen developers and experienced developers needs to be identified to prevent stepping over boundaries or confusing scope responsibilities. In other cases, there is no reason to draw this line. With proper guidelines on the governance of development, citizen developers should be encouraged to keep the bots simple and focused on improving their personal work tasks. Scope may be limited to the development of bots using pre-approved technologies that are meant for personal use and are limited to a single desktop or up to the entire department. With proper review and approvals from CoE, these automations can be modified to scale firmwide.
The citizen developer framework adds a new layer of intricacy and complexity. Without proper governance, application systems hosting these bots can face security risks and quality & functionality issues that may not meet business standards and if not designed well, could result in a poor user experience. Likewise, there must be special personnel responsible for identifying which bots are approved and deployable beyond local desktops. The Intelligent Process Automation CoE is most promising to assume this role and can serve as a liaison between the IT, operations, and citizen developers. It may be responsible for laying out the scope for deployable technologies and uses, determining the standards for bot types, and maintaining the bot bank. During the development phase, technical assistants can guide citizen developers to ensure the scope, quality, and regulations are met.
Consistency and standardization stem from governance, and there must be frequent communication between the bots and the system they rely on as well as the developer to upkeep the reliability and efficiency of the existing bots. If there are any software and program changes or updates, corresponding bots must be updated accordingly. Security will be another key factor in governance as personal bots will be located on desktops where there is a low security risk. Yet, public bots may have more access to wider areas of the company and will need to have more security and guidance before being deployed.
Change management can be a difficult path to navigate considering that there will be departments, managers or even individuals that may be reluctant to change. Identifying the resistant will be a key indicator of where to focus your change management efforts and what to consider from their perspectives. Focusing your efforts to alleviate their concerns will be key. Companies need to evaluate if employees chosen to be Citizen developers have the right skills and capabilities to create bots efficiently. Training should also be a top priority to ensure developers understand the target operating model, ways to utilize the platform, type of resources to be developed, and the standards and quality the bot must achieve to be approved.
There are many opportunities for automation beyond what is doable or is currently being implemented by your CoE. Companies that work to create a successful Citizen developer culture can help increase resources to tackle personal and department task as well. Since Citizen developers focus on easier day to day process, they can develop simple bots much faster compared to the complex bots which take longer time through normal development. This allows employees to not only develop new skill sets but also empowers them to think and share ideas with each other on the possibilities for automation. Automating repetitive task can allow them to free up more time to tackle other intensive tasks and learn or be trained in other areas of their job, which in turn can be very rewarding and engaging for them and beneficial to the company.
Because the citizen developer framework is bottom-up executed, employees are the main motivators to encourage each other to become a citizen developer. Thus, the main drivers will be those who are peers and have benefitted from the success of citizen development. Companies can also help promote collaboration between employees to facilitate new intelligent automation ideas by offering innovation challenges that require both knowledge sets and an understanding of the department’s needs. Empowering employees to grow their skills can increase their personal satisfaction and through successful bot development they can become advocates of this new framework and work culture.
Despite the advantages, there are certain challenges to citizen development that need to be considered as well. Becoming a citizen developer can bring psychological stress to the employees in several ways. No one wants to be associated with a failed bot and employees may feel discouraged in such a scenario. Also, bots can handle task quicker and hence employees may need to be upskilled which may lead to threatened job security. But these areas can be addressed with the right culture and with help from the CoE. The CoE will be involved in approving, developing, deploying, and maintaining steps to ensure that the bots deployed are in scope of what citizen developers can accomplish and meet the standards and qualities for use. Intelligent Process Automation CoE can make decisions on which proposed bots are in scope for development through citizen developers and which should be assigned to experienced developer to help mitigate some of these challenges.
In conclusion, these four principles are the building blocks that will help organizations balance their growing needs for automation. We believe that moving forward companies will need to start investing more energy and efforts to help sustain and drive the future culture for Citizen Development in order to expand Intelligent Process Automation capabilities at large scale.
Please reach out to the author Wolfgang Enders for more information.