By: Matthew Garvey, JD, PMP — EVP Digital Services/B3 Group
With telework here to stay, federal agencies are investing into digital solutions to support newly remote workforces, deliver data management and analytics, cybersecurity, and other needs. While federal executives are eager to innovate, reduce technical debt, and improve delivery, the labor market for trained software professionals is as competitive as any point in the last 20 years. Low code/no code application platforms (LC/NC) have emerged as a viable solution, offering a technology environment that lowers the technical barriers to entry. LC/NC empowers non-programmers, referred to as citizen developers, with the ability to experiment with new solutions to improve business efficiency, value, and agility. When agencies empower citizen developers with LC/NC, it frees up coveted engineering talent to tackle the complex enterprise-level obstacles that stand in the way of large-scale modernization.
Fortunately, the federal workforce outside of traditional IT departments includes a pool of untapped digital skills, capacity, and ambition. These assets can be leveraged as a force multiplier to advance digital transformation, but only if IT can find a way to effectively encourage, enable, and empower broad-based participation from business partners. In most cases, federal IT departments resist ceding solution delivery leadership to their business partners. The result is backlogged requests that cause frustrated internal customers to either miss crucial opportunities or pursue their digital ambitions through shadow IT efforts. While these leaders acknowledge that the traditional approach is unsustainable, the alternative of a decentralized, free-for-all technology environment makes the flawed (but known) approach appear to be the lesser of two evils.
Instead of ignoring it and risk driving it further into the shadows, federal IT departments should promote responsible citizen development. LC/NC platforms in the hands of a citizen developer can automate tasks (notifications, approvals), workflows (end-to-end processes) and reasoning (analytics, chatbots) but these non-programmers aren’t schooled in how to engineer systems for maximum reuse, address non-functional requirements or adequately comply with federal regulations. Establishing a citizen development-focused Center of Excellence (CoE) that provides training, maintains policies and guidelines and coordinates across existing IT infrastructure can help ensure sustainable behaviors and practices that shorten time to value, ensure acceptable total cost of ownership (TCO) and mitigate risks.
B3’s Model for a Successful Citizen Development CoE
An effective CoE empowers citizen developers to create, maintain and deploy automations and applications that support business processes in a secure, resilient, and scalable way. Outlined below, B3’s CoE model is practical by design and importantly, proven. We’ve been leading Citizen Development efforts since 2017, efficiently modernizing entire portfolios while mitigating the very real risks of shadow IT.
- Select the right technologies for citizen development: Not every application is right for citizen development. LC/NC are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, but they aren’t created equal when it comes to key aspects for citizen development like UI simplicity and ease of configuration. There’s also robust robotic process automation (RPA) tools and intelligent business process management suites (iBMPS) that can be successfully leveraged by citizen developers. It’s about striking the right balance between areas that IT needs to control and where the business would benefit from more freedom and flexibility.
- Define the model and staff the CoE organization: Centralized accountability for citizen development within the IT department is critical. The CoE should provide governance, support, and quality control. This CoE should be sufficiently staffed so that it can own the governance strategy and be responsible for monitoring and ensuring that all citizen development activities follow the regulations of other parts of the organization, and integrations with other systems in use.
- Develop a targeted training program: The training program should introduce citizen developers to basic concepts, expectations and how citizen development fits into the agency. The initial training should provide access to agency or vendor training on the platform and include relevant/approved data lists and connected systems. Continuous training thereafter will ensure the ecosystem is receiving the support that they need to be successful.
- Assume responsibility for managing the platforms and apps that Citizen Developers use/build: The CoE must assume responsibility for maintaining/updating the LC/NC platforms, applications, systems, etc. that citizen developers use to build, independently and in coordination with the organization’s existing IT portfolio. Without centralized ownership, shadow IT projects will continue to perpetuate and applications in production will experience persistent sustainment issues.
Today, there is an explosion of use cases across every federal agency along with the potential to unlock substantial value. Responsible citizen development means moving past supply and demand constraints, erratic budget cycles and adversity to risk, unleashing this pent-up value and truly democratizing IT. Our model’s key to success is a thorough, yet flexible CoE that balances business empowerment with clear and strategic governance.
Point of Contact
Matthew Garvey, JD, PMP, Executive Vice President, Digital Services/B3 Group [email protected]