Citizen Development: Giving Power to the People to Boost Process Automation
Through citizen development programs, companies are putting the power of automation in the hands of those who best know the processes that they use. Here’s how to put robotic process automation (RPA)-focused citizen development to use for the greatest benefit — to employees and the company itself.
RPA vendors have long vowed that virtually anyone could use their tools to develop RPA solutions — with no technical background needed. However, many companies found that this wasn’t the case, so they created centers of excellence (CoEs) where they could establish RPA standards and governance and house automation implementation and support resources. But now, more intuitive, easier-to-use RPA tools are enabling companies to unleash the full promise and power of citizen development.
In our view, as with other digital engineering efforts, citizen development can play a significant role in companies willing to adjust their automation operating model and value proposition, reimagine processes and redesign the way they work. RPA-focused citizen development enables business users from across the enterprise to automate small tasks specific to their roles, allowing them to do their jobs better, faster and smarter — thus keeping them more engaged. For example, a study conducted by Forrester Consulting found that 67% of organizations reported that RPA enabled deeper insights into customers and 57% cited improved employee engagement.
We believe citizen development is best applied to RPA-suitable processes where risk and complexity levels are low, such as correction letters, tax processing, maintaining customer master data, cost inventory account updates, remittance issuance, application issuance, calculating net sales, and invoice origination.
Who are these citizens?
Citizen developers are individuals who sit outside the core RPA program and are typically not fully dedicated to creating RPA solutions. Generally, citizen developers fall into two categories. Basic users can create task-level automations primarily for personal use from their desktops. More advanced, or “power” users can create task-level automations or process-level proof-of-concept code that an RPA team would review and approve. Development of all other complex and unattended process automation, which requires rigorous standards and highly skilled resources, should remain with the organization’s RPA team.
Creating a citizen development infrastructure
Organizations should consider two factors before embarking on the citizen development journey.
Value: It’s important to consider the initiative’s expected value. Most notably, citizen development can improve the employee experience by empowering them to eliminate mundane tasks that prevent them from focusing on higher-value work. The program will arm employees with technical knowledge that increases their independence and improves individual success. Citizen development is best suited to automate small tasks for personal efficiency. So, if cost cutting is a primary objective, citizen development may not be the right strategy.
Risk: While empowering citizen developers can improve individual efficiency, it also may lead to some faulty or inaccurate outcomes. Such outcomes, in turn, might call for increased support efforts due to lower quality code.
Here are key recommendations when considering citizen development:
Start by selecting workers, with in-depth knowledge of business processes, who are enthusiastic, energetic and passionate about learning a new skill and improving the processes for which they are responsible. A degree of technical acumen remains a key success factor.
To encourage these employees, use a variety of methods to raise awareness such as roadshows, lunch-and-learns, stretch assignments and other talent-building opportunities. Once workers have been selected, construct training programs to provide the right level of technical skills and an understanding of internal processes and best practices. This is best done with a combination of out-of-the-box and customized in-house training. Leverage the implementation partner and in-house training teams to create repeatable, scalable training programs that meet specific needs.
A citizen development operating model can benefit from a community of practice that provides ongoing mentorship and a forum for citizen developers to ask questions and share experiences. A community of practice also reinforces that while this is a citizen developer-driven effort, expert mentors from the RPA team support the program.
Once the stage is set, it’s important to be patient. We have seen it take six to nine months for a citizen developer to become proficient and deliver meaningful automations at speed. The community of practice can help with ongoing engagement and retention, as skilled citizen developers will be in high regard internally and at risk for poaching by competitors.
To successfully implement citizen development, it is important to establish clear governance and boundaries. As with any program, it’s vital to set goals, establish best practices, and track and manage outcomes. Some key considerations:
Set guidelines on process suitability related to citizen developer skill sets. Some processes will be too complex and some applications too difficult for a basic citizen developer or even a power user to automate.
Establish goals. Citizen developers are volunteering for an effort that adds to their regular workload, so their participation creates additional responsibility. Make the most of the investment in infrastructure, licensing and training by requiring participants to create a minimum number of automations per year. This will help citizen developers keep their skills sharp and ensure that the program stays on track.
Review and harden. Have a process and team in place to review and “harden” citizen-developed automations for tasks, so they are production ready, maintainable and re-useable. A global agricultural services company that lacked such a hardening process found that its citizen developed automations had a 78% success rate for schedule adherence and a 57% success rate on task completion. Once a hardening process was implemented, schedule adherence improved to 100% and task completion to 97%.
Capture outcomes. Always be ready to share the captured value of citizen development efforts. This can include the additional bandwidth created as well as more subtle benefits such as employee satisfaction.
Environment. Don’t forget the nuts and bolts of managing infrastructure and licenses. For example, govern bot IDs to manage total cost of ownership and maximize license utilization.
The RPA team is accountable for ensuring that standards are followed. However, monitoring training and adoption levels and understanding outcomes and overall benefits will enable a community of practice that can provide significant support for these areas and lighten the load on the core RPA team.
A central support team should collect and maintain reusable assets that can be made available to citizen developers through an asset store. The more citizen developers can plug and play, the more they can deliver value at speed — and the heartier their code.
Ensure there is a process in place to review automation ideas so reusable assets are leveraged and documented.
Review processes with production support teams so that once automations are in production, proper support can be provided.
Citizen development is an opportunity to create business value by putting the power of automation in the hands of those who best know the processes they use. Recognizing the value that employees can bring and empowering them to help dictate how they do their work improves their productivity, keeps them engaged in the business, increases their confidence in RPA and spurs them to promote the program to others in the organization.
While still an evolving capability, citizen development is part of the next evolution of RPA, and we’re seeing a high demand from potential citizen developers. As more companies adopt the concept, those that actively educate potential citizen developers about the benefits and capabilities of low-code and no-code applications will differentiate themselves as innovators, driving efficiency and enabling them to attract and retain valuable talent.