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Citizen Developers Drive Growing DIY Mobile Apps Movement

By Stewart Elliot, Chief Executive Officer, Modo Labs

Stewart Elliot, Chief Executive Officer, Modo Labs

As organizations struggle to address the spiking demand for IT and Website services that is being driven by mobile proliferation, "everything, everywhere" strategies appear unachievable within the resources of a typical IT department or their consulting partners. In particular, mobile-centric services have become especially stretched as businesses are forced to embrace and support the BYOD and BYOA movements, each of which is an outcome of mobile-savvy employees rapidly transforming their daily information and communication routines to “mostly mobile”.

Demand for specialized apps has grown to a point where business users have either run out of patience waiting for IT developers to create every required mobile app (much less all “requested” apps), or run out of money paying external consultants to do the same. In fact, according to an August 2014 survey conducted by Vanson Bourne of 700 IT decision makers, 85% of respondents want to reduce the time and effort it takes to develop and deploy applications.

Under staffed IT mobile development resources are in turn accelerating the growth of another trend in which non-IT staff increasingly create and deploy their own mobile apps, i.e., the so-called Citizen Developer. Interestingly, “way back” in 2009, Gartner predicted that by 2014, 25% of new business applications would be written by staff outside the IT department, a prediction that may end up being conservative.

Just a few years ago, the notion of “DIY apps” was a compelling proposition for quickly increasing an organization’s development capacity. But it was ahead of its time, because the platforms and tools available to develop apps were still too complex. 4GL tools and other “business developer” type products were not enough to complete a reasonable business application. The reality is that a business developer still had to be a bona fide developer to complete an end-to-end application -- someone who was skilled in the art of coding, working with APIs, data integrations, debugging and testing tools, and production deployment. As a result, a typical citizen developer with poor development skills would usually implement a poorly engineered and hard to maintain application. In essence, the solution was potentially worse than the problem. And if you were non-technical, becoming a citizen developer was likely not an option, except in the case of trivial form-type applications or simple web sites.

Fast-forward to today and the world has changed. Most notably, the description of a citizen developer no longer means a power user with programming skills. Instead, a broad spectrum of non-technical users, from students to marketers to administrative staff, makes up the fastest growing segment of the DIY app market. Underscoring the change in the citizen developer profile, the same 2014 Vanson Bourne survey found that an incredible 80% of organizations have departments outside IT creating apps and 47% of those are being developed by sales and marketing teams.

The availability of easier-to-use and faster mobile application development platforms is helping to draw the line between who is and isn’t a developer more negligible by the day.

Mobile app assembly products such as Guidebook have done a great job paving the way for the non-developer. They are easy to use and quick to deploy. But, these first generation systems don’t offer the breadth of customization options or data access that a citizen developer truly needs to deploy a complete mobile app that is expected to not only solve real business problems but also be considered a showcase for promoting the brand and public image of the citizen developer’s employer (an absolute requirement for a modern mobile app).

Next generation mobile app assembly systems such as the Kurogo Mobile Platform actually allow users to build data intensive custom apps that are not only multi-channel and multi-role, but also media-rich, containing content, images, video, forms, indoor and outdoor maps, social media, news, and much more. Armed with a powerful mobile app authoring capability that allows deep linking of data between many different sources and equipped with a multitude of user interface options, a citizen developer can create powerful mobile solutions with a completely seamless user experience in a matter of hours or days. This type of solution has already been embraced by marketing departments in Fortune 500 companies, and within organizations like Notre Dame University where they actually employ student citizen developers. This is a win-win situation-the university reduces its costs and development cycles, while students gain valuable work experience in a high-growth area.

Advanced programmers and IT staff will always play a key role in internal app development. However, the upside of citizen development taking root at companies and organizations is that now IT staff are freed up to focus on other backlogged IT projects, and this is particularly true of mobile app development.

Today any businesses, regardless of size should be empowered to easily create and update beautiful, modern, high utility mobile apps for their customers, employees and partners. Thanks to these friendlier mobile application development tools that are now available, the new wave of citizen developers is taking a mobile-first approach in how they solve any problem, or introduce a better way to do just about anything with mobile apps.