Citizen Development

What is a Citizen Developer?

Citizen Developers are end users who develop software-based applications for their own department – without advanced programming or IT knowledge.

In this article we take a look at how Citizen Developers operate in practice, what tools they use and why more and more companies are turning to Citizen Development for their digitalization projects.


What is a Citizen Developer?

A Citizen Developer is a professional who develops software-based applications for their own business department. Citizen Developers generally have no advanced IT or programming skills, but are very familiar with the individual workflows, requirements and challenges within their department.

Citizen Developers use so-called „low-code platforms“ and „no-code platforms“ to be able to develop their own applications without programming knowledge. These are development environments that largely or completely dispense with code input and instead provide graphical user interfaces and other tools for application development – including for example simple selection dialogs and drag-and-drop editors.

Studies show that the concept of Citizen Development continues to be adopted by more and more companies trying to advance their digitalization and process automation efforts in a more cost-effective and flexible manner. Citizen Developers relieve the burden on traditional IT and help companies to manage the increasing demand for new applications, driven not only by innovative business models and digital transformation initiatives, but also new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

A survey of 500 IT executives conducted by Salesforce and Pulse found that 72% of respondents use low-code tools to achieve greater efficiency in application development. Other market research reports and journal articles come to similar conclusions about the importance of citizen development.


What advantages does Citizen Development offer?

Citizen Development is an innovative approach to corporate application development. Companies affected by the shortage of IT specialists can use Citizen Development to develop and deploy numerous applications within a short period of time and subsequently profit from automated workflows and other digitalization benefits.

Since Citizen Developers are end users who have in-depth knowledge about the unique characteristics of their area of application, this ensures that the developed solutions meet the operational requirements.

Furthermore, Citizen Development allows companies to react more quickly to customer and employee demands: Where traditional software development may be too slow to adapt to constantly changing market conditions, citizen developers can provide new solutions quickly and flexibly.

The most important advantages of Citizen Development at a glance

  • Special expertise: Citizen Developers know the individual requirements and workflows in their department and are therefore ideally suited to developing their own solutions.
  • Accelerated development: The use of Citizen Developers reduces the workload of the IT/development department and accelerates the development of software-based solutions.
  • Adaptability: Applications created on the basis of low-code or no-code platforms can typically be easily adjusted – sometimes with just a few clicks.
  • Increased flexibility: Applications can be quickly adapted to new industry or market developments
  • Increased transparency: When low-code or no-code platforms are used for application development, the resulting applications are built according to the same pattern and follow pre-defined security and development standards.
  • Innovation potential: End users with specific expertise are given the tools they need to quickly put their ideas into practice and test them extensively. 

Low-code and No-code platforms

Which tools does a Citizen Developer use?

Enabling a Citizen Developer to develop applications independently despite a lack of programming knowledge requires the use of special development environments: So-called low-code and no-code platforms.

These offer the possibility of creating automated workflows and other components of applications using graphical tools. Low-code platforms usually require some prior programming knowledge (such as scripts, APIs or similar), while no-code platforms completely eliminate the need for any code input.

As the concepts of „Low-code“, „No-code“ and „Citizen Development” are closely related, we will explain the differences between low-code and no-code platforms in more detail below.

Low-code platform

Low-code platforms are slightly more complex and require at least a little technical knowledge (or appropriate training). In some cases, scripts, special commands or other technical inputs such as connection data are required. Many low-code platforms offer documentation for more advanced configurations. Low-code platforms also tend to rely visual tools to a large extent and, in the best case, offer intuitive operation in order to quickly implement even complex applications.

No-code platform

No-code development environments or platforms do not require any code input from the user. Instead, visual user interfaces and tools such as drag-and-drop editors are available. Ideally, a no-code platform requires no prior knowledge and enables intuitive operation. This allows a Citizen Developer to concentrate fully on implementing the functional requirements, while the technical implementation remains hidden in the background. Several applications or workflows can often be created in a relatively short period of time.

Both low-code and no-code development environments are often provided in the cloud.

Example: Industrial No-code platform for Citizen Developers

One clear example of a no-code platform is our own cloud platform manubes.

manubes was developed specifically for industrial production and offers a quick and easy way to create applications for digital production management.

For this purpose, manubes offers graphical tools that do not require any code input: With the manubes Workflow Designer, selected building blocks can be assembled into an automated workflow using drag-and-drop, which is controlled using triggers. This allows processes such as database operations, notifications or communication between machines, devices and software applications to be easily automated and monitored.

The manubes Page Designer, on the other hand, enables the creation of web-based pages, allowing all production areas to be visualized in real time. HTML, CSS and other code are not required – instead, drag-and-drop modules and simple selection dialogs are available.

Digital production management in the cloud

With manubes, you are able to systematically automate production processes and visualize all areas of a production in real time.

The manubes platform offers worldwide access via web browser, easy operation and maximum security for production data.

Practical implementation

What are the biggest challenges in Citizen Development?

In the previous sections, we have explained why the use of Citizen Developers can result in numerous (economic) benefits for a company.

Nevertheless, there are important aspects that need to be considered when implementing a Citizen Development approach in order to avoid risks, security gaps, integration difficulties and other undesirable effects.

Most of these fall into the area of „IT governance“. In practice, this means integrating Citizen Development into the company’s overall IT strategy, while ensuring that all predefined requirements for security, transparency, documentation, etc. are met.

Close cooperation with the IT department and other experts

Even if corporate IT is relieved by Citizen Developers, there is still a need for close cooperation.

The development environments used (low-code/no-code) and the resulting applications should be checked by the IT department for their quality, compatibility and security.

Training for Citizen Developers is necessary to ensure that the required skills are available and that application development is carried out according to defined criteria.

Furthermore, the completely independent development of applications by a single Citizen Developer is neither common nor effective. Just as with traditional programming, applications are developed in collaboration with team members, managers, data protection and security experts.

Citizen Development is sometimes associated with the term “Shadow IT”. Shadow IT is when software applications are used without the knowledge and control of the IT department. In a Citizen Development concept, this should be avoided at all costs.

Requirements for applications

Just like in traditional software development, applications developed by Citizen Developers on the basis of low-code or no-code platforms must also meet certain criteria. Some of these depend on the planned area of use for the application (such as a specific industry, department, etc.), others are general quality criteria for software applications.

Clear objective:
Each application or workflow within an application should have one clear objective. Development environments for Citizen Developers often offer reusable building blocks, making it possible to implement even highly specialized applications in large numbers at low cost.

Authorization concept:
Which users are allowed to access which data and functions? Which users are allowed to interact with processes and which have read-only permissions? A well thought-out authorization concept increases the security of an application and protects against misuse and unwanted changes.

Interfaces for end users:
Who are the users of an application and which interfaces are provided to them? Every application should always be developed with a strong focus on its end users. This includes consideration of both the supported end devices (desktop and mobile devices) and user interfaces such as forms or buttons.

Data interfaces:
The ability to communicate digitally with other company systems, including industrial machines, devices, databases, email and ERP software, is essential for the effectiveness of software-based applications. When selecting a development environment, attention must be paid to which interfaces (protocols) are supported for data exchange. The task of a Citizen Developer is to integrate these interfaces into an end application.

Applications developed on the basis of low-code or no-code platforms should also come with detailed documentation. This is not only relevant for reasons of transparency and security, but also to enable new employees without prior knowledge to work with existing applications.



Surveys show that many companies have been utilizing Citizen Developers for years already – a development that is supported by the shortage of IT specialists and the availability of powerful low-code and no-code platforms.

Good planning and functioning communication structures are necessary in order to maximize the benefits of Citizen Development and at the same time avoid security deficits and a lack of transparency. Both the development and provision of low-code and no-code platforms as well as application development by Citizen Developers should be carried out in accordance with the highest quality and security standards.

In this article, we have summarized the most important advantages and challenges of Citizen Development. If you would like to know what a specialized no-code platform looks like in practice, you can find out more about manubes – our innovative cloud platform for industrial production management – on this website.

In our article „Am I a Citizen Developer?”, we use four characteristics to explain at what point someone is considered a Citizen Developer and which skills are particularly relevant for Citizen Developers.

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Cloud-based production management with manubes: Our innovative platform offers specialized tools for connecting production systems, managing and visualizing production data and automating production processes. manubes users benefit from a powerful infrastructure, worldwide access and maximum security.