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Unleashing Innovation: How Citizen Developers Are Revolutionizing RPA in Today's Businesses

Stephen Booze
Dec 5, 2023 10:25:53 AM

It’s been over two decades since Watts S. Humphrey, the acknowledged “father of software quality,” said, “every business is a software business.” While that becomes truer every day, due in no small part to the rise of RPA, every business now struggles with the global shortage of developers in the millions. This has given rise to the citizen developer and the low code paradigm that now drives RPA.

Everything from customer service and finance/accounting, to HR, supply chain management, and beyond benefits from RPA. Because of RPA growth and developer need, the citizen developer (CD) role will continue to play a big part in the broader RPA initiatives within businesses. This reality means more opportunities for businesses to fill the developer gap while also revealing challenges based on CD limitations.

Businesses can minimize these challenges by putting governance guardrails in place, which also maximizes the benefits of using CDs. Explaining how this works requires starting with an understanding of the purpose and rise of CDs today.

The Purpose and Role of Citizen Developers in RPA

Citizen developers are often non-technical people within a department or broader organization. They occupy the space between technical expertise and domain knowledge when it comes to low code RPA. Either self-taught or supported by third-party or enterprise developers, CDs bring a unique understanding to their industry needs and pain points. This is ideal for creating rule-based, task-oriented software bot solutions that address specific challenges via business automation and RPA.

By 2026, at least 80% of low-code tool users will be non-IT department developers, with citizen automation development platforms (CADP) expanding most rapidly, per Gartner. Most RPA solutions use drag-and-drop user interfaces and user activity recording, which is based on a low code approach for simple process automation. CDs use these tools to automate non-enterprise level employee tasks and processes, which enable them to.

  • Automate formal or informal processes in their own work group or department for greater efficiency
  • Quickly respond to process automation opportunities for improved business agility, cost effectiveness, and productivity
  • Introduce creative process improvements and expand department/business capabilities
  • Streamline data collection and aggregation for continuous process improvement and business decisions
  • Simplify, optimize, and personalize enterprise system and application interactions

CDs reach the limits of their capabilities as bots grow in complexity, such as processes involving multiple departments requiring expansive controls. These advanced RPA applications also require regular maintenance to stay in step with process and system changes. This is where enterprise developers must step in with the advanced skill set and coding/engineering expertise and experience.

Citizen Developers vs Traditional Developers in RPA

While citizen developers are not on the level of enterprise developers, they bring a natural curiosity about technology, tools, and coding. This is accompanied by a deep understanding and expertise about the processes they work with every day. They can more easily translate this into approaches where automation reduces human process errors and time. CD-driven RPA then enables them to work on higher-level tasks in both enterprise and small business environments.

Benefits of citizen developers in SMB and enterprise

The many ways that RPA can benefit small business often overlap with enterprise benefits because resources are always a challenge in any environment. SMBs have fewer people, but that often means they have little to no developer base and often go outside to find that resource.

Large enterprises are likely to have a much larger pool of people with both an interest and time for learning basic programming concepts and the use of low code RPA tools. They also have extremely busy IT/developer staffs that have little time for task automation since they are spending time on larger application development projects.

Enterprise developers and RPA

Enterprise RPA and application developers focus on complex enterprise-wide automation tasks via legacy systems, applications, and workflow automation/modernization using AI. These enterprise developers have a macro viewpoint of RPA and the broader process automation strategy that involves deep application and workflow dependencies.

Citizen developers and RPA

CDs take a micro viewpoint focused on individual tasks that minimally interact with other processes, workflows, or applications. Making the most of CDs requires businesses and IT to guide them with a governance framework that accounts for both their limitations and possibilities within the business.

How Governance Defines the Path, Limits and Possibility of RPA Citizen Developers

The ability to analyze business processes and identify opportunities for improvement are the real benefit that CDs bring to the table. The challenges that every business faces in cultivating and using them are based on the need for governance. This is because businesses often implement CD initiatives without a strategy, roadmap, and governance guardrails to avoid the pitfalls of CDs. Governance includes the need to provide:

  • Management of the maintenance lifecycle of CD-created RPA bots/applications
  • QA processes such as safe sandbox environment development for idea and solution testing
  • Customization and scalability expertise from enterprise/expert developers
  • Process documentation and reporting to avoid process/development fragmentation and effort duplication across the organization
  • Control, security, and compliance safeguards

The governance framework must be a clear, actionable roadmap with very defined ownership and roles with assigned decision-making authority, which helps to:

  • Avoid wasted effort
  • Prioritize projects
  • Speed outcome delivery
  • Minimize technical and business risks

Most importantly, good governance must always be informed by a sound center of excellence (CoE) approach.

Creating a center of excellence for citizen developers

A CoE for citizen RPA developers acts as a check and balance system for the entire automation process, which includes:

  • Testing
  • Development approvals
  • Standards maintenance
  • Quality Control to maximize ROI of each deployed bot/application

The CoE requires its own governance practices based on the chosen tools and methods that are unique to each business. It must be capable of working across each line of business and department in a holistic way that enables learning, use, and improvement across the organization. Governance/CoE setup and management can be complex and time consuming, which is why it can benefit from an RPA developer consultant and digital services support.

How RPA Developer Consulting Can Shape Micro and Macro RPA Plans & Initiatives

Governance maximizes CD efficiency and productivity while acknowledging its limitations. But enterprise development teams have limited time to plan and implement this support since they are far too busy with larger projects. The right RPA developer consultant can best fill this role through a host of support methods, which enable:

  • CDs to achieve RPA goals at the micro-organizational level (department, workgroup, or even individual)
  • Enterprise developers and broader IT team to focus on the macro, organization-wide issues
  • The micro-RPA projects and CDs to feed the enterprise developers by providing insights on processes and workflows that can be part of larger and more complex RPA and automation initiatives
  • Enterprise developers operating on a macro level to support CD initiatives by helping to define and enforce governance practices from testing and QA to scalability and broader RPA integration and duplication support across the enterprise.

This third-party RPA consulting can help shape the enterprise RPA strategy for an SMB or enterprise in countless ways that form a holistic approach across the micro and macro-RPA projects. The goal is to develop a governance plan that supports both CD and enterprise developers around automation more broadly and RPA specifically.

Breaking down time, cost, and expertise barriers with citizen and enterprise developers

Time, cost, and expertise are always a factor in small businesses and enterprise RPA initiatives where internal management of strategy, implementation, and governance is always difficult. But an RPA consulting developer team can support everything from tool selection and training for CDs to governance and CoE development that guides the business’s overall RPA/automation strategy.

This enables the business to strike the right balance between citizen and professional developers with a governance framework that addresses risks and challenges while increasing competitive positioning. With proper planning, coordination, and oversight, citizen development can drive innovation, agility, and efficiency across the organization.

Citizen developers should play a defined role in workflow and process automation via RPA. This requires a sound, long-term RPA strategy that provides the tools, support, education, and governance that maximizes their potential while providing guardrails for their limitations. Although enterprise developers have a much more complex role in business-wide automation initiatives, they can benefit from and provide support to CDs.

The goal is to strike the right balance between CDs and enterprise developers with support from an RPA consultant. This provides the foundation for the greatest success for enterprise and small business RPA/automation.

Learn how the Solugenix team can support RPA citizen development in SMB and enterprise environments with Intelligent Automation and Digital Strategy & Engineering support.