By 2014, citizen developers will build at least 25% of new business applications, an advance that should both enable end users and free up IT resources.
However, Gartner analysts warn that IT organisations that fail to capitalise on the opportunities that citizen development presents will find themselves unable to respond to rapidly changing market forces and customer preferences.
Gartner defines a citizen developer as a user operating outside of the scope of enterprise IT and its governance who creates new business applications for consumption by others either from scratch or by composition.
"Future citizen-developed applications will leverage IT investments below the surface, allowing IT to focus on deeper architectural concerns, while end users focus on wiring together services into business processes and workflows," says Eric Knipp, senior research analyst at Gartner.
"Furthermore, citizen development introduces the opportunity for end users to address projects that IT has never had time to get to – a vast expanse of departmental and situational projects that have lain beneath the surface."
Knipp presented his outlook for citizen-developed applications during Gartner Symposium/ITxpo. He identified four converging forces that are advancing citizen development:
* Mass personalisation is custom tailoring by a company in accordance with its end users' tastes and references. End users start to become developers when they start to personalise software for their use. Mashup tools enable personalisation while allowing reuse of existing service-oriented-architecture investments. Ubiquitous access via mobile devices drives the need for further personalisation of content and applications.
* Infrastructure industrialisation is coming via cloud computing, a model of delivering elastically scalable computing resources as a service over the internet. Cloud computing frees application development from infrastructure ownership.
* Changing demographics are resulting from the retirement of baby boomers, and the maturation of "digital natives" means that the workforce will expect technology to "just work." The consumerisation of technology is not a trend for these people – it's a way of life.
* Developer tool evolution resulting from stepwise advances in programming tools (programs used by software developers to create, debug, maintain or otherwise support other programs) has made application development more accessible than ever.
Knipp explains that, in the 1982 book "Applications Development Without Programmers," James Martin first coined the term 4GL to describe a form of application development performed by business users.
"Over the last 50 years, four waves of 4GL corporate adoption have seen each generation more widely adopted than the last, and now cloud computing has unlocked the market for 4GL-style development environments delivered as a service. As a result, rapid growth will occur through 2014 as cloud computing matures," he says.
Better technology has also lowered the bar for becoming a developer, while at the same time, users have become less intimidated by technology, empowering citizen developers to do more than they ever could before.
However, Knipp warns that organisations need to recognise the limits of citizen developers and differentiate between the types of applications that IT can afford to let go of and those that it needs to maintain and manage more formally.
"The bottom line lies in encouraging citizen developers to take on application development projects that free IT resources to work on more complex problems," says Knipp. "Citizen development skills are suited for creating situational and departmental applications like the ones often created in Excel or Access today.
"However, complex distributed applications and low-level, fine-grained developer decisions will remain in the hands of IT, while line-of-business applications will likely fit between the two and need to be carefully managed."
Knipp says that, while the blending of "IT" and "the business" is inevitable, organisations need to make sure that they both enable and govern end-user technical activity by setting criteria for permissible solutions, establishing an accessible development environment, requiring "just enough" methodology and including solutions in portfolio management processes.