The Citizen Development Cat Is Out of the Bag: How to Leverage Success With Fusion Teams

The past 1.5 years have put business technology solutions in the hands of the people on a scale we’ve never seen before. Take a look around the working environment today. You’ll find HR managers quickly building an online system to coordinate how many employees are working in the office at any given time; teachers and trainers launching virtual classrooms practically overnight; local governments fast-tracking apps to address the health and safety implications of a pandemic. Your coworkers and employees have developed ways to do business at a time when the world changed faster than ever. 

And, in most cases, it worked. They got the job done. 

Using citizen development, people were able to keep companies running, facilitate remote learning, manage public safety, and much more. That isn't actually anything new. Citizen development is what happens when workers outside of the IT department build or customize applications that are then governed by the IT Department. Of course, people want to work smarter, increase productivity and help their colleagues.

Getting Started with Citizen Development whitepaper

Citizen development is becoming even easier and more accessible with low-code and no-code platforms. Such platforms feature drag and drop components and cloud-based technologies that can run autonomously but also fit seamlessly into existing IT environments. As a result, they are an obvious choice for businesses when new applications need to be introduced fast and with minimal risk. 

So it’s no surprise that demand for low-code/no-code platforms surged during the pandemic. The market is expected to hit $5.8 billion in 20211, a 30% increase in one year. Gartner® 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey2 found “that at the end of 2020, workers were more likely to use technology they obtained for themselves that their employer has approved when compared to 2019.” Gartner3 has also found that “74% of technology producers outside of IT simply have greater technology ambitions — they wanted to develop their technology skills, or their enterprise encouraged them to customize or build analytics or technology solutions for work.”

What started as a situation in which organizations’ survival seemed uncertain has become a pivotal moment for business-led tech. It’s an opportunity to make your workforce more productive, resilient, happier, and better equipped for digital transformation than ever before. By taking a proactive and collaborative approach, you can finally bridge the gap between IT operations and business goals. 

The best way to leverage the citizen development movement is with fusion teams (also called multi-disciplined or cross-functional teams) that will empower digitally-skilled and solutions-oriented employees to use low-code and no-code technology. With this strategy you can simultaneously ensure that their applications will fit your current IT environment and integrate into your future landscape. Based on the success we’ve seen with our own customers, we’ve outlined three steps for getting your fusion team off to a successful start. 

Identify or assemble the team

First of all, let’s clarify what a fusion team is and does. A fusion team brings together people with diverse professional backgrounds who use data and technology to achieve shared business outcomes. The team’s goals are usually related to improving business operations or customer satisfaction. As such, you likely already have at least one working in some capacity in your organization. According to Gartner4, “at least 84% of companies and 59% government entities have setup “fusion teams” - multi-disciplinary teams that blend technology and other types of domain expertise and are often designed to deliver products rather than projects.”  

As such, we believe that your first step is to identify your organization's fusion team (or teams) and get to know them as your new technology allies. If you don’t yet have a fusion team, the good news is that you certainly already have people working in the organization who will be the perfect fit. The model that we see works best combines the expertise of experienced developers, business-led developers (AKA business technologists) and citizen developers. 

Business-led developers are easy to spot since they support business objectives while working within the IT department. Although you’re unlikely to have anyone in your organization with a Citizen Developer job title, you’ll find them working in every area and level of the organization; managing and analyzing datasets, automating tasks, developing websites, and much more. Many rely on analytics or technology for their job performance so they are figuring out their own ways to be more efficient and successful in their work. Forrester has recently found that enabling workers outside of IT to develop apps is one of the top reasons that organizations are adopting low-code/no-code platforms.

Although many citizen developers have technical skills, that’s not their most important quality. Look for workers who are already going above and beyond to improve their department. Those in your organization who take a proactive, problem-solving approach to their work will be the strongest assets to your fusion team. 

Equip fusion teams with IT support and guidance 

Now that you have found your fusion team, you’ll want to be sure their efforts are working in harmony with IT operations.  It’s a true win-win scenario whenever business people and IT work together on IT solutions that benefit the entire organization. Nurturing a well-rounded and capable fusion team will often require a change of mindset that can eventually lead to a shift in the company culture. But, this can happen over time and works best when accomplished through incremental, strategic steps. 

One of the first, critical maneuvers is to position IT leadership as a source of knowledge and guidance for the fusion team, even when they don’t report to you. The old-school mentality that places all technology tasks solely on the shoulders of the IT Department is simply no longer sustainable in our modern, digital world. Progressive organizations bring IT and business objectives together to effectively balance business goals with IT considerations, such as security and supportability. They actively encourage and facilitate a creative and learning-oriented culture that will benefit the entire organization. Furthermore, they eradicate the unnecessary and unrewarding work that zaps employee morale and productivity. 

IT feedback is crucial to helping fusion teams understand what makes a good app and how new platforms can (or cannot) integrate into an existing system. Coach them through decision-making processes that will lead to architecturally sound, value-adding applications. Facilitate situations that enable citizen developers to learn hands-on and immediately begin addressing real-world problems. CIOs should embrace citizen developers as their co-conspirators in digital transformation. Designate citizen development evangelists or community builders who can help you attract more people within the company to the cause and ensure everyone has a basic understanding and appreciation of the new mindset. Continuous learning, upskilling, and knowledge-sharing are the ways forward. 

Evolving your workforce into one that is fully digital-capable is perhaps the single biggest investment that you can make in your company's digital transformation. Fusion teams are perfectly positioned to free your organization from paper and spreadsheet dependency. As an added benefit, you’ll be able to grow talent that wasn’t previously fully developed or utilized within the company. This will ultimately result in a modernized workplace with employees who feel empowered and engaged. But, to reiterate, start small with a fusion team assigned to a low-stakes project. As they learn and prove their value to the organization, you can continue extending their possibilities.

Give fusion teams autonomy 

That takes us to the next step which is apt to make many IT departments a bit uncomfortable. While fusion teams need guidance, they also require autonomy. Creativity and innovation thrives when it has space for a free flow of ideas. Fusion teams will need to test their apps and continuously make improvements. Ultimately, their solutions might not look like yours and that can be an indicator that the fusion team is working exactly as they should. Gartner has found that, “70% of fusion team leaders believe their companies’ data and technology standards apply only to IT, not to their fusion team4.” 

There’s also another side to this coin: autonomous and empowered workers are happier and more productive. Fusion teams empower those closest to the challenges to create business applications that fully meet their needs. People like making a difference in their communities and being part of something bigger. Encouraging citizen development within the structure of a fusion team will invariably engage employees to help your organization address current pain points and future uncertainties more efficiently and strategically. 

Stepping back to enable innovation doesn’t mean moving completely out of the picture. With the right low-code/no-code platform, IT can maintain governance and ensure new applications meet your security standards. You should be able to establish boundaries and set permissions, add code when necessary, and provide maintenance for the applications that your fusion teams build. At Betty Blocks, we believe that this is one of the essential elements of any quality low-code/no-code platform which is why we are targeting our latest round of funding ($33 million) towards further developing our governance features. 

Yes, the citizen development cat is out of the bag. But, that doesn’t mean it has to run wild. In the next chapters of this series, we will outline the best practices for coaching and training citizen developers and explain how fusion teams can be integrated throughout every department of your organization with minimized risk. 

Getting Started with Citizen Development whitepaper

[1] Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Forecasts Worldwide Low-Code Development Technologies Market to Grow 23% in 2021”, February 16, 2021.

[2] Gartner, “Architect the Future of Work With the Digital Workplace Framework”, Jim Murphy, Gene Phifer, June 29, 2021.

[3] Gartner, “Force Multipliers: Closing the Digital Talent Gap for the Whole Enterprise, Not Just IT”,  October 1, 2020.

[4] Gartner, “Fusion Teams: A New Model for Digital Delivery”, August 2, 2019.

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