The MSE CIO's Guide to Citizen IT

May 06, 2019

Contributor: Sarah Hippold

MSE CIOs should use citizen IT to keep up with business demands for new IT capabilities.

One of the competitive advantages of midsize enterprises (MSEs) is that IT and business users work closely together — and business leaders don’t hesitate to communicate needs for new IT functionalities and capabilities. But that is also where the challenge begins.

“The average MSE employs 10 to 30 IT experts, 12% of whom are developers,” says Christian Hestermann, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “You can imagine that IT’s capacity and ability to keep up with business demands for new capabilities is very limited.”

“ The results of citizen IT work are known as artifacts — configurations, code, integration scripts and similar objects ”

The solution lies in today’s non-IT workforce that is more tech-savvy than ever. Some already have the skill sets to build IT solutions or adapt existing ones to their needs. Some attended programming courses at university or online and can expand on that training. Those employees can form a citizen IT team that will enable MSE CIOs to build and deliver new features quickly and securely.

 

What is citizen IT?

Citizen IT can include two groups. Citizen developers use configurations and development environments to enhance existing applications. Citizen integrators use integration tools to build flows between applications that avoid time-consuming duplicate data entries.

The results of citizen IT work are known as artifacts — configurations, code, integration scripts and similar objects for regular IT to use in their projects.  

However, citizen IT cannot be established overnight. MSE CIOs should prepare a citizen IT strategy that focuses on four elements.

Prepare and enable

The professional IT department will naturally be hesitant to let end users deal with the organizational IT landscape — and rightfully so. Mission-critical and complex systems should remain in the hands of professionals.

“Citizen IT should focus on areas that can provide maximum value at minimal risk. Think of personalization of screens or dashboards. Mark those environments as safe for citizen IT, and don’t forget to also clearly label the no-go areas,” Hestermann says. “Don’t expect too much at the beginning. Start with a small project and build on small successes.”

Educate and experiment

Once the boundaries are set, MSE CIOs must look for suitable candidates. Recent graduates with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics background are likely candidates, as they are most likely to have the requisite technical understanding and critical thinking skills to be successful with citizen IT tasks. In addition, aspiring citizen IT members should also be interested in business processes and have a holistic business view that extends beyond their own domain.  

“ To maximize the effectiveness of citizen IT initiatives, MSE CIOs must set up a reliable support system to provide speedy responses ”

In any case, training and education will be necessary, and most of it should be learning by doing. As MSE CIOs usually enjoy great autonomy within their organizations, they should encourage a culture of experimentation and collaboration between citizen IT and the IT department. Inevitable failures must be treated as education and experience — the base for future success.

Support and respond

To maximize the effectiveness of citizen IT initiatives, MSE CIOs must set up a reliable support system to provide speedy responses to citizen IT requests. “Quick response time is essential. If citizen developers and integrators wait too long for support, it will not only reduce their motivation, it might lead to compromised artifacts that are a risk for the organization,” Hestermann says.

However, the net balance needs to be positive. If, after an initial investment period, IT has to spend more time supporting citizen IT that it would take to deliver services itself, MSE CIOs need to review the people, tools and processes involved and make appropriate changes.

Monitor and rescue

Let’s be clear: Nontechnical experts who modify or extend core business applications can introduce security vulnerabilities, well-intended changes can result in inaccurate data that creates inefficient business processes, or worse, violates compliance regulations.

“ If and when citizen IT staff get themselves into trouble, they need to be rescued and aided rather than punished ”

IT should analyze every citizen IT artifact prior to production deployment and establish a solid monitoring operation. However, the main motivation should always be to support and improve results, not to obstruct and make progress difficult. People-centric self-governance and self-oversight practices are good ways to guide citizen IT resources down the path of accountability.

And ultimately, if and when citizen IT staff get themselves into trouble, they need to be rescued and aided rather than punished. After all, their intentions were positive, and learning from failures is the most efficient and enduring form of learning.

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