What Is a Citizen Developer?
A citizen developer is an employee who creates new applications for colleagues using development and runtime environments sanctioned by IT.
While citizen developers might be part of the IT department, it’s not a necessity. They don’t always have training in programming, and their level of technical knowledge varies. What unites them is their curiosity about how technology can solve problems with current workflows. They’re also passionate and driven about finding a solution.
Why the Rise of Citizen Developers Matters
For organisations, the rise of citizen developers should be welcomed – here’s why:
- App development can take place outside of the IT department, which reduces the burden on in-house developers or the reliance on contractors.
- Citizen developers use tools approved by the IT department, so the organisation’s digital safety won’t be compromised.
- Citizen developers create apps that make their lives and those of their colleagues easier.
As New Zealand began recovering from the global pandemic, Auckland Airport saw the trickle of passengers slowly increase. The IT team, which had relied on contractors for projects before the pandemic, saw this as an opportunity to build its internal skillset in the lead up to increased traffic.
They reached out to Enlighten Designs. Craig Humphrey, Office 365 Development Manager at Enlighten, believed that a partnership with Microsoft would help the Auckland Airport’s IT team develop new strengths to cope with higher traffic volumes.
The Hackathon at Auckland Airport
Representatives from Microsoft suggested the idea of a hackathon. A hackathon is an event that brings people together to solve problems; traditionally, attendees are coders working on software programs. In the case of the hackathon at Auckland Airport, not all of the staff in attendance came from technical backgrounds. While many of them were from the IT department, only some of them possessed coding or software development skills.
At the hackathon, airport employees split into four teams. While employees came from a mix of departments (including IT, HR, and Finance), each team was tasked with solving a specific problem within a given team, such as within operations or HR and Finance.
Microsoft suggested the idea of a hackathon to solve day-to-day problems.
Microsoft representatives then introduced attendees to Power Apps. They guided airport employees through the process of envisaging the problem, creating a storyboard for the problem’s solution, and how to build a basic app in Power Apps. Over the course of two days, teams brainstormed, storyboarded, and created apps in Power Apps.
At the end of the hackathon, the teams presented their apps to a Dragons’ Den panel made up of the airport’s CIO, HR director, a senior Microsoft executive, and a member of the marketing team. The winning team presented an app that automated the process of checking runway lights to ensure they’re operational; as it stands, the process is highly manual and labour-intensive. Their app solved an inefficiency that plagued airport staff.
Microsoft Power Apps: Empowering Citizen Developers
Craig noted that the members of the winning team had never used Power Apps before the hackathon. On the first day, the team members immersed themselves in the application. They immediately began testing all its capabilities to determine what they could do with it. Craig added that while the winners mainly came from IT backgrounds, none of them were software developers.
‘It shows how citizen development can have a low barrier of entry,’ he remarked. Moreover, Craig commented that the event showcased why Power Apps are a natural fit for citizen developers. ‘It was a testament to how Microsoft has invested in the platform and their target of the citizen developer,’ he said.
Post-Hackathon: Power Apps as a Launchpad for Continual Improvement
Sometimes, organisations hold inspirational events, yet the momentum achieved vanishes in the days and weeks following. That wasn’t the case with Auckland Airport’s hackathon. Craig and his colleagues saw ‘a real hunger from the wider team to engage with the platform.’
Before the hackathon, a few people at Auckland Airport had used Power Apps. Since the event, that number has grown dramatically. Additionally, Enlighten is now working on bringing the winning project to life, so checking runway lights will become an automated, efficient process.
"Organisations realise that individuals at a staff level have knowledge of processes and inefficiencies, and they’re the best ones to solve those problems."
The hackathon represented the start of a mindset shift that Craig has seen at other organisations where citizen developers have sprung up. ‘Organisations realise that individuals at a staff level have knowledge of processes and inefficiencies,’ he noted. ‘And, they’re the best ones to solve those problems.’
Power Apps have become a launchpad for continual development at the Auckland Airport. Craig remarked that line-of-business units have begun to recognise the might of Power Apps; they see other teams have managed to fix their problems by designing their own apps, and they realise they can solve their own issues.
‘Power Apps have become a launchpad for continual development at the airport.’
Instead of having to turn to developers (especially to contractors) for basic apps that solve everyday headaches, Power Apps gives employees the freedom and the ability to create apps on their own – apps that make companies more efficient and agile.
Enlighten Designs Can Help You Empower Citizen Developers
Enlighten Designs is a proud partner of Microsoft. We’ve helped organisations implement Power Apps to enable citizen developers. To learn more, Contact Us.