What makes Citizen Developers The Next Big Thing In RPA?

In today’s world, almost every business is striving to undergo a digital transformation in some capacity. That involves automation technology such as Robotic Process Automation or RPA. It’s become an integral part of the transformation ecosystem. As a result, it is more important than ever before to understand its impact on the future workforce. An important trend to emerge of late is the phrase Citizen Developer. Although it is considered a more recent trend, this concept is as old as the software industry itself! And yet, considering the current climate, Citizen Developers might just be the Next Big Thing in RPA!

I have listed below the things that I hope will be your takeaways from this article:

Let’s begin!

What is a Citizen Developer (especially in RPA)?

So, what does the term Citizen Developer mean? What do Citizen RPA Developers do differently from a regular RPA Developer? And why is everyone talking about them like they’re the next big thing? I could open this post with something like – “Gartner defines Citizen Developer as…” but that sounds so much like the cliched “Webster’s dictionary defines Marriage as…” speech at weddings. Besides, you can read it on the Gartner website directly.

Instead, we are going to dive straight into what it might mean to the readers of RPA For Everyone. Let me start with a little bit of history…

Google Search trends for “Citizen Developer” go as back in time as 2010

The industry analyst giant Gartner is often credited with coining the phrase citizen developer about a decade ago. But while that may be true, the concept of citizen development is as old as the software industry itself! Just because no one called it something specific does not take its essence away… This quote sums it up perfectly!

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

William Shakespeare

A hidden figure that conquered technology

Have you seen this fantastic movie called Hidden Figures? It’s an adaptation of the real lives of three women mathematicians who worked at NASA during the 1960s, i.e. when the Space Race was at its peak. One of them was Dorothy Vaughan, who worked as a human computer in Langley Aeronautical Research Lab.

A human computer was someone who processed virtually endless streams of aeronautical research data. Dorothy showed promise with her work and soon found herself leading a team of human computers at the lab. The competition between nations to be the first in space was fierce, thus generating more work for human computers. Naturally, the leadership looked toward new technology to help them expedite their efforts.

As a result, the research lab decided to employ the latest IBM digital computer, while Dorothy took it upon herself to learn FORTRAN. Fortran is a general-purpose programming language that was in use at the time. Additionally, she also trained all the members of her all-women team to prepare them for the transition. Indeed, the technology produced results faster but the real asset was the skilled team that programmed it to function effectively.

Then v/s Now – Things Are Not So Different!

I share this story to highlight that Dorothy Vaughan was truly the original Citizen Developer, in every sense of the word! A mathematician and teacher by profession, she taught herself the world’s first computer language without any external help. This was a time when digital computers were literally just a decade old! It is infinitely easier to become a citizen developer today and find help along the way.

The concept of Citizen Developers speaks to the core value of RPA For Everyone.

Anyone and everyone can learn and use Robotic Process Automation to improve their work efficiency and help their peers in the process.

Generally, a citizen developer is someone who creates shareable, distributable business applications while staying within the confines of the organisational policies. For an organisation, this means efficient processes and security of information and resources. However, to an employee, this can mean different things. Let’s break down and understand what benefits could a citizen developer project bring you.

“What’s in it for me?” – RPA Citizen Developer Programs and YOU.

A company can reap several benefits from a citizen development program. Industry experts have been writing about it for quite some time. Although it’s a relatively new term for businesses in the non-technical domain, tech pioneers like IBM, K2, and Salesforce have been advocating citizen developer programs for a long time. With the advent of Robotic Process Automation on the stage of technology and innovation, it’s only fitting that this quickstart, low-code technology should offer a citizen developer aspect for organisations to supercharge their automation adventure.

The Australian Tech News website IT Brief recently interviewed Andrew Phillips, Managing Director and Vice President of UiPath Australia & New Zealand. I would like to share this interesting quote from the interview:

Q: UiPath recently raised $225 million in a Series E investment round, putting UiPath’s value at around $10.2 billion. How will this funding help to support the company’s local operations in A/NZ?

A: Continued focus on education as our goal is to bring automation to 1 million citizen developers around the world. Companies in A/NZ tend to be early adopters of new technology – many of our new technologies have been deployed first by A/NZ companies.

Andrew Phillips in an interview with IT Brief

Yeah, but still… What’s in it for me?

While much is written and said about how citizen developer programs can be a blessing for business growth, there isn’t a lot of talk about how citizen developers may benefit from these programs. Typically, a citizen developer is someone who’s already a part of the business in a more functional rather than technical capacity. This essentially means that by taking on the role of a citizen developer, they are taking on a challenge and the additional responsibility to help improve the output of their team, and in turn, the organisation. When a business team member signs up as a citizen developer, it’s only fair that they fully know what benefits to expect in this exchange.

In most businesses where citizen developer programs have been successfully implemented, the employees involved in these programs have exhibited up to a 50% productivity gain. This is because the work they do is more meaningful; while the boring, repetitive everyday tasks of their job are performed by a Digital Twin that lives inside their computer. Imagine taking a break for a hot cup of Joe, only to come back and find your timesheets or expense reports filled out and waiting for your review. A weekly report that needs collaborated input of your entire team, is completed by a tiny robot that doesn’t even ask the teammates to bring back a coffee in exchange for the favour. 😉

The Triple-Benefit Cake For Citizen Developers

These small and simple tasks quickly add up and cost you an overall big chunk of the time at work. You don’t need a robot to do the most important part of your job – because that’s what YOU are best equipped to do. Instead, putting the bot to such quick-n-easy chores – that’s where the value of a digital assistant lies for you.

Let’s do a quick check on the following – if you are currently working at a company, which one or more of these relate to your daily routine?

  • Everyday tasks which bring no additional value to your knowledge, skill or expertise in the work that you do
  • Everyday tasks that are valuable but take too long to finish due to system lag, waiting for results, etc (for example, running a macro)
  • Daily/Weekly refresh of the latest datasets from SAP, database or other systems

Also for students who are about to enter the workforce or otherwise just curious to learn new technology, Robotic Process Automation is an easy gateway to starting a career in automation. The future of work clearly lies in digital automation. As more and more businesses adapt themselves to the increasing demand to be online and on the cloud, the digital workforce is going to be a very important asset. And once again, the real asset will be the skilled teams who build this digital workforce.

Let’s take a cross-section view of what a citizen developer role can mean for your career and work-life.

Triple Benefit Pie for Citizen Devs

The citizen developer is a class of its own, with the benefits extending beyond just having more time on your hands.

Super Skills

Build a resume like no other. Complement your business process skills and experience with the ability to supercharge them with automation fuel. As the world begins to adapt to a new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, we see a surge in businesses trying to leverage the power of automation. Going by all indicators, the automation programs i.e. Software Bots will increasingly become a permanent part of the workforce rather than just a temporary fix.

This means businesses will want to hire people who can understand and learn how these bots work and how to utilise them to their full potential. The jobs that exist today will metamorphose into a newer version of themselves over the next few years or decades. A popular example of this is the job title Social Media Manager. Most social media that are prevalent today have been around since the late 2000s; and over the last decade or so, businesses have seen the potential growth opportunity that comes from marketing on these social media. And still, ten years ago if someone told you that you could get paid good money to make creative posts on Instagram and Pinterest all day, you’d probably think it was too good to be true.

Similarly, as we gear up towards a new way of work, humans and software bots will increasingly work together. Naturally, knowing well how the bots work is only going to work in your favour. Past experience in dealing with software bots or better yet, having built a few of your own, will be treated as a commodity and put immense weight on your resume.

Reduced Workload

Do fewer manual tasks, more deep work. RPA shines in doing tasks that require less thinking, more doing. In other words, it’s precisely the kind of work that eventually gets boring to us and we start to feel like we hate our jobs. From your own experience or that of any of your friends, do you remember someone being frustrated because they were starting a new job? We all get excited when we start something new, it’s the repetition that follows which makes us lose the excitement.

Having a robot smashing through the clicky-clicky-typey-typey parts of your job frees you up to do more meaningful work.
If you’re in sales or customer support, that means attending and helping more customers, and not having to worry about losing your average handling time (AHT) in submitting the summary reports after each call.
If you’re in HR, that means not having to ALT+TAB between windows all day long to read something on an email or PDF and enter it manually into Employee management systems.
For finance teams, that means fewer calls about “where did my refund go?” or “why does the expense report have obsolete data?“.

You don’t have to preoccupy yourself with these issues. A bot will do that for you – without really preoccupying itself!

Happier Teammates

Sharing is caring! If there is one thing that the software community cares about – it’s sharing and collaboration. (Despite the competition for being the first or being the best, it’s all about code availability and reusability).

Anything that can be automated, should be automated. And only once!

As a citizen developer, you can share your automation work with the team, helping them be more efficient too! In an environment of sharing and collaboration, the team’s shared tasks can be automated, freeing up everyone’s time. Use that for training new team members, shared learning or even just taking longer lunches and farther walks!

Taking on the role of a citizen developer can unlock these potential growth opportunities for you, whilst helping you improve your current work efficiency and in turn, work-life balance! I hope you find this article invoking enough to start exploring it further.

May we help answer any questions?

If you found that some of the topics discussed here relate to your job and career in some way, it’s likely that you have questions about things like –

  • How do I get started without any background in RPA or programming, or
  • What if my company doesn’t allow just anyone to install RPA software, or
  • Probably something more specific to your situation.

It is normal (and believe me, very understandable) to have some questions, and I would like to make this process a bit easier for you. If you’d like to ask a specific question, please feel free to write directly to Ash@RPAForEveryone.com

Share your voice!

Which layer of the citizen developer pie is the most appealing to you? Tell us in the comments – would you rather have more time on your hands, help your teammates do the same or supercharge your career with RPA skills?

Also, please share your RPA journey with us using the form below. It will help us answer your queries better and tailor the content for the people who find our voice relevant. Speak to you soon in the next blog post!

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