Citizen development can help you decentralize, distribute and accelerate process automation within your organization. We compare it to an IT-centered, enterprise-driven RPA approach to help you determine which process automation model will bring your organization the most success.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a type of software that programs robots to automate routine tasks. These robots (bots) mimic human behavior, such as clicking, typing and making simple decisions. RPA software has advanced rapidly over the past few years, likely because its inherent flexibility proved to be a dependable asset during the rise of remote work.
However, the flexibility that attracts many companies to RPA often presents a challenge. Because RPA is customizable to a wide range of applications, it can be tricky to select which processes to automate, arrange the deployment of RPA software for selected processes, and monitor their results afterward.
Traditionally, companies have relied on subject matter experts, typically their IT department, to manage automation. More recently, low-code and no-code development tools have presented an accessible alternative approach to process automation: citizen development.
Citizen Development in Process Automation
Citizen development is the practice of employees (the “citizens” of an organization) — who don’t have specialized training in tech or IT — creating automation solutions. Because both low-code and no-code RPA are user-friendly, citizen developers can automate processes independently.
While low-code RPA requires a basic level of coding knowledge, no-code RPA eliminates the need for coding altogether. With no-code RPA, citizen developers automate tasks by dragging and dropping their steps next to each other on an easy-to-use interface, fusing together the steps of their task a lot like building blocks.
Citizen development has accelerated the rise of RPA in the workplace to such an extent that it has become distinct from the traditional enterprise-driven approach, which is anchored by centralized IT management.
As RPA evolves further, the difference between citizen development and enterprise-driven RPA will continue to widen. If you are considering introducing RPA to your workplace, it is crucial to grasp both models, weigh their implications, and determine which aspects of each would benefit your organization the most.
Understanding the Standard: The Enterprise Process Automation Model
In the enterprise-driven approach to process automation, the IT department or another specialized team manages RPA in its entirety. It decides which tasks to automate, arranges software accordingly and provides support for the automated tasks once they are deployed. Though employees from different departments can share their ideas and feedback, the IT team remains in control, ensuring that RPA runs smoothly.
Overall, the enterprise model of process automation offers control and security. Because they are subject matter experts, an IT team has a good handle on bot standards and security, and they can easily oversee deployed automations. When experts effectively manage automation, organizations often spend less on software licensing, employee automation training and user support. Many organizations have witnessed impressive returns on investment (ROI) and achieved their goals through an enterprise-driven approach to RPA.
However, because enterprise-driven RPA relies so heavily on IT, it can stunt the growth of automation in an organization. IT has many other responsibilities beyond automation, which require extensive time, attention and resources. As multiple departments approach IT with their automation projects, IT can quickly become overwhelmed, and bottlenecks often occur. As a result, departments often compete for attention rather than collaborating to achieve larger organizational goals with RPA.
Putting a Bot on Every Desk: The Citizen Development Model
Citizen development democratizes process automation. Instead of submitting automation ideas to IT and waiting for their review, employees use accessible tools to automate for themselves. As a result, citizen development reduces the IT bottleneck of the enterprise-driven approach to RPA.
While IT is still involved in citizen development — managing the overall software footprint, providing support to citizen developers and suggesting best practices — it takes a supportive, not directive role and allows department individuals to work on their projects without waiting for review.
With easy-to-use tools available to a multitude of users, citizen development allows employees to recognize the value of process automation and empowers them to take charge of their goals. Unlike enterprise-driven RPA, citizen development is accessible and adaptable, resembling a productivity tool, much like Microsoft Excel.
However, its individual nature often poses a problem of value for an organization. Citizen developers prioritize their own projects rather than addressing enterprise needs. As a result, citizen development can disrupt the alignment of RPA with the broader needs of an organization.
Which Process Automation Model Should You Choose?
If you’re exploring RPA, stay open to both enterprise-driven RPA and citizen development. Neither model is perfect, but both can drive success for your organization. First, define your automation goals, identify your IT resources and reflect on your comfort level with democratized automation.
To further evaluate which automation model would work best for your enterprise, consider the following:
Governance and Shadow
IT Because individuals drive citizen development, it can create automation tools and applications more quickly. However, its speed also carries risk. Citizen developers do not have official IT training, so they may unknowingly use prohibited software to automate a process, a practice known as “Shadow IT.” Or, consider a citizen developer who builds a bot that fills in data columns but forgets to monitor its progress. Weeks later, he realized all of his bot’s updates were incorrect. An unmonitored automated process like this is known as “rogue automation.”
While citizen development can reduce IT bottlenecks, it cannot replace the role of IT in an organization. Citizen developers should rely on IT governance, which manages the software your organization uses, enforces standards and provides support to ensure that automation efforts are successful.
While enterprise-driven RPA encourages optimization before automation, citizen development pushes an automation-first mentality. One of our core tenets is, “Don’t automate a bad process. You just get bad results faster.” That’s because automation only band-aids a process: it doesn’t change the process it automates, just the speed at which it operates.
Before you automate a process, you must evaluate it. Ask yourself whether the process has unnecessary steps and whether it achieves its intended goals. As our tenet hints, it would be a greater detriment to your organization to automate a bad process than to put the process on pause while you evaluate it.
Enterprise-driven RPA licensing is often limited to a few developers and specific machines that run automation. Citizen development, however, requires many more licenses to operate across your organization.
While citizen development requires a higher volume of licenses, they cost less, on average, than traditional licensing. Consider whether you want to spend less on a greater number of licenses (and manage them afterward) or spend a little more on fewer licenses that require less effort to govern.
ROI and Value Measurement
Understanding automation’s value is crucial for its successful implementation in your organization. It’s much easier to track transactions and success rates with centralized architecture, a system design where all data and resources are stored, managed, and accessed from a single server or location.
If your organization uses a centralized architecture, you can compare a process’s transactions and success rates with its business case to determine its overall ROI.
Citizen development uses a distributed model, a system design where data and resources are spread out across multiple servers, locations or entities. While you may be aware that citizen developers use automation in various places within your organization, it can be difficult to grasp its value in a distributed model fully. This makes it harder to determine the impact of automation on your employees and the organization as a whole.
Many RPA vendors offer similar suites of tools, including programming interfaces, bots and a central control system. Some vendors offer integrated development environments (IDEs), software applications that provide a wide range of features for developers to write, edit and manage software code.
Some tools are designed for citizen development, like low-code and no-code platforms, while others include built-in features for managing large-scale automation projects within a company. It is important to select an RPA tool that matches your specific needs and the way you want to implement automation within your organization.
Because RPA is still a somewhat new technology, many employees don’t know how it works and will need training to learn about its functionalities, advantages and challenges. If your organization is considering citizen development, employees will need to become familiar with low-code and no-code platforms. If your organization is considering enterprise-driven RPA, employees will need to learn about software that can be technically complex to set up and use.
In an attempt towards user-friendliness, some RPA vendors license different versions of their development tools for technical and non-technical users. Non-technical citizen developers may jump at the chance to learn a new tool, but they may also struggle with adoption. While RPA vendors are trying to simplify their tools by offering low-code or no-code interfaces, they have room to make RPA far more accessible than it is currently.
In short, enterprise-driven RPA tools are user-friendly to the group of experts who will be using them but difficult and obscure to regular employees. By contrast, citizen development tools are more accessible, but they require much more training and management at first.
Conclusion: Citizen Development Empowers Individuals
RPA continues to become more common in organizations, largely due to the rise of citizen development. User-friendly RPA platforms that require less coding will become more widespread, making it easier for non-technical citizen developers to take advantage of RPA’s benefits.
However, it is important to consider enterprise-driven RPA, not just citizen development, when implementing process automation in your organization. Centralized RPA programs have many advantages, and citizen development can present many challenges for your organization. Because both RPA models have advantages and disadvantages, RPA vendors continue to improve tools that support both approaches.
Therefore, the only way to know which approach is right for your organization is to identify your organization’s needs, technical limitations and company culture. Only then can you select an RPA delivery model and software platform that drives the most success in your organization.