Scaling Your Business with Automation by Citizen Developers
I had the opportunity recently to get away to the annual Laserfiche Empower Conference in Dallas. It was great to enjoy a few days away from everyday work life and focus on learning and new technologies.
In the keynote address, Karl Chan, CEO of Laserfiche, talked about innovation. Sometimes we view innovation as a lofty thing that only a few privileged achieve. Though this may seem true on the surface, you don’t have to be Elon Musk or Steve Jobs to innovate. The reality is that even non-tech people have the opportunity to innovate.
Karl’s comments were simple but rang true. Every time we automate something and make it easier, every time we make it more intuitive, every time we simplify the process, it impacts people. When lives are changed for the better by what we do, this is innovation, and this is meaningful.
One of the themes of the conference that was repeated often was enabling “citizen developers,” which might seem like a strange term. The idea is to make software so easy that users can create automation in their organization using no code and without developer training. Meaning that HR people can develop workflows to aid in onboarding, legal departments can automate the process of contracts, and non-profits can streamline the mountain of information and documents they must produce and compliance requirements they must meet. Think of your business or your department. What if you could make software fit your work process exactly? This is the power of citizen developers.
The term “citizen developer” was initially coined by Gartner, and their definition, though it has been revised over time, is on target. According to Gartner, “A citizen developer is an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units. A citizen developer is a persona, not a title or targeted role.”
By this definition, anyone in a business role who understands their work process and is interested in constant improvement is a candidate to act as a citizen developer.
There are a few practical prerequisites, though. First, this person must be willing to put in the extra effort required to develop. It requires time and diligence to improve things; in most cases, citizen developers do the work in addition to their daily work. It also helps if the person taking on this task is bent toward the analytical. Citizen Development may be a fit if you like spreadsheets, writing analytical documents, or being a problem solver.
One of the things we have seen occur in recent years is that the software stack that most businesses use to do business every day is much broader than in the past. Often there is a single line of business application like an ERP or a vertical market accounting solution combined with CRM, but this is just the start. Most of us have a whole host of additional applications for things like engineering, HR, quality, data sharing, web self-service, appointment setting, and so much more. According to BetterCloud’s 2020 State of SaaSOps Report, companies with 499 or fewer employees use between 16 and 47 SaaS applications. This diverse software stack only works as there is some communication between applications.
This communication is often human, creating a time-consuming and frustrating work process. This is where Business Process Automation software enters. BPA software like Laserfiche enables cross-departmental collaboration and a single platform for business process automation.
This is where the citizen developer operates. Think of the BPA software as a layer of software with the right tools to enable consistent workflow between people and even create communication between applications. It streamlines and even enforces the work process creating unparalleled consistency and efficiency.
The term Business Process Automation (BPA) is one of many used to describe this software category. Other terms and components include Content Services Platform, Enterprise Content Management, Workflow Automation, Robotic Process Automation, and the very broad Digital Transformation.
There are some key components that allow citizen development:
#1 Simplified Visual Interface. Users can create work processes by simply dragging and dropping tools into a visual diagram and connecting the tools with logic. No code is necessary.
#2 Prebuilt Connectors and Integrations. An integral part of these solutions is to get data from other systems and push data to other systems. This is done by a group of very cool tech like database connectors, screen readers, and progressive, open architecture, but also by using already-made integrations for common software packages.
#3 Flexible Rights Management. To allow citizen development, there must be some control over who can do what. Rights management is key in allowing developers to do what they need but not overreach.
#4 Strong Collaborative Community. Collaborating with others is key to citizen development. Collaborative features include online solutions sharing, online question-and-answer forums, and active and current blogs for updates and tips.
#5 A Great Partner. It is essential to have someone guiding your team through the process of forming a solid platform for citizen development. And you want someone to help you through those first phases and be there if something requires deeper development. Using a partner to get you there avoids roadblocks and gives you a strong ramp-up.
Citizen development may seem radical if you have not explored this before, but the rewards are great. It allows you to customize an electronic workflow that truly matches your daily work process without leaving the need for extra spreadsheets, manual reminders, and shadow files. Implementing a Business Process Automation platform like Laserfiche with citizen development allows users to create a dynamic workflow that makes you more efficient and enables you to move and change with a changing business environment.
Scott Hirschfeld is the President of CTaccess, a Brookfield IT support company that has been helping businesses stop focusing on IT and getting back to doing business since 1990. Under his leadership CTaccess provides the business minded approach of larger IT companies with the personalized touch of the smaller ones. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.