Robotic process automation (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 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 and other low code/no code solutions are enabling companies to unleash the full promise and power of citizen development. Employee demand and adoption has other intelligent process automation capabilities – such as data aggregation and data intake – quickly following suit.
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.
In the context of RPA, we believe citizen development is best applied to 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 automation program and are typically not fully dedicated to creating automation 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 would be reviewed and approved by an RPA team. 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: