How Salesforce supports citizen development

Application development is like raising a child: It takes a village, with each member contributing their specialty at the best time and in the appropriate context

Citizen development is really a responsible response to the dilemmas created by shadow IT. Now that technology is available to those with minimal technical knowledge, business users will implement solutions without the help of the IT department. The best thing IT can do about this is mentor the business users in ways that will support what business is going to do anyway, in a way that will not lead to enterprise-level headaches. Salesforce is at the forefront in helping business and IT with this new paradigm.

The number of times I revised the title of this post is a sign of the times in technology. Those not steeped in the gray arts of technology may think that because computers process 1’s and 0’s that going from thought waves to software is a linear and clearly defined path. The more the technology evolves, the less true that is.

I started with the title of “How Salesforce enables citizen development,” but a key premise of this post is that it is not a check box in the system administrator’s console, which the term “enables” insinuates.

I considered and rejected “Citizen development with Salesforce” because it has a tone that suggests there is no longer a need for highly trained Salesforce administrators, architects, and developers. Not only do I disagree with that premise, I more emphatically caution against the invalid assumption that such a void would result in cost savings.

These nuances of title may seem like a lot of overthinking except that as both a writer and reader I am all too aware of the tendency to base a fully formed opinion on the title alone.

I was recently asked to sum up the benefits of citizen development and came up with the following:

  • User-owned solutions
  • Reduced IT bottlenecks
  • Streamlined process
  • Lower costs to deliver

Salesforce supports citizen development by providing a platform with capabilities that can be accessed and used with a minimum of training and experience. The unbridled optimist will look at the preceding sentence and imagine a world where every business user can build applications that are easy to use and will contribute to productivity at a lower cost.

The realist would (and should) take umbrage with the word “every.” Putting aside the variance in individual capabilities, there are other key factors that make “every business user” a dangerous assumption. Two key factors are time and inclination. It takes both to perform any one of the following critical tasks for a successful application:

  • Determine the full range of business requirements an application should address.
  • Analyze the variety of technical solutions and appropriately select the best fit for the requirements.
  • Review the existing functionality within the organization for potential reuse and impact.
  • Train and support other users in the resulting application.
  • Maintain proper data governance to ensure both adequate security and cost controls.

So, perhaps a better statement of how Salesforce supports citizen development would be “Salesforce provides the tools for an enterprise to enable business users to build applications with little or no IT support when proper governance processes are established and followed.”

Alas, this phrase doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker as easily as “Clicks not code.” Perhaps “IT doesn’t go away. IT gets out of the way” almost fits, though.

The “lower cost to deliver” benefit is based on the streamlined process of citizen development; that is, no need for business to create a full specification to hand off to IT for implementation, because business will own the development.

In an enterprise where the IT team is continuously backed up, this will lead to faster time to delivery as well. In cases where the scenario is simple or common enough to be configured in a generic manner, a great deal of time can be saved. However, this should not be confused with the false assumption that configuration over coding is inherently faster. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not.

Declarative programming must be provided in a way that is maintainable by the vendor and generic for the customer. For a skilled developer, custom development can be completed in far less time than it takes to configure a collection of generic options to something as simple as loop through a specific set of data looking for a specific output.

If it sounds like citizen development is a bad idea, that is neither the case nor the intention. Application development is like raising a child: It takes a village, with each member contributing their specialty at the best time and in the appropriate context. A governance group to provide guidelines, consider exceptions and enforce adherence. Architecture and security specialists to determine the best way to ensure compliance. Developers to provide reusable components when they are not readily available from the App Exchange. Trained Salesforce system administrators to enable appropriate permissions, configure necessary integrations and manage production deployments.

In short, all the roles that an organization following best practices for platform use will have in place anyway.

On the one hand, supporting citizen development adds some additional tasks to those who support the platform. On the other hand, properly supported citizen development frees up platform support personnel to better focus on the tasks that most need their skills while improving relations between business and IT by enabling business to more self-supporting.

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