Amplifying the power of citizen developers: Lessons from META, ConocoPhillips, SOCAR Turkey, and Wesco

How META ConocoPhillips scale automation citizen developer programs

Citizen development programs are reinventing workplaces, creating win-win situations where employers gain greater productivity and employees enjoy more interesting work. But well-functioning citizen development programs don’t spring up out of nowhere—they require deliberate planning and support to be effective. 

Several UiPath customers, including META, ConocoPhillips, SOCAR Turkey, and Wesco, have achieved impressive outcomes through citizen development. Although each of their citizen developer programs is unique, they share similar characteristics that could provide a blueprint for others aiming for similar success.

Every type of citizen developer can add value 

A citizen developer is a business user who doesn’t have formal coding experience but who, with the right training and support, can create technological solutions. The term emerged over a decade ago when Gartner analysts, as noted by writer John K. Waters, proclaimed that “We’re all developers now.” 

But citizen developer roles vary across different companies. Some, like META, have a very technical workforce that can take on advanced automation problems, while other companies’ workforces require more straightforward low- and no-code tools. At a FORWARD VI session, Colton Phillips, Citizen Development Lead at ConocoPhillips, defined citizen developers as “anyone who works with a tool outside of their traditional tool set to build solutions for themselves or for others.”

Ultimately, citizen developers of all kinds can make a real impact, regardless of their technical skills. The key for leaders is designing a program that fits the specific needs of their company and employees.

How ConocoPhillips and SOCAR Turkey created successful citizen developer programs 

While the benefits of citizen developer programs tend to be similar across firms, their reasons for getting started can vary widely. At SOCAR Turkey, an oil and gas firm, the robotic process automation (RPA) center of excellence (CoE) was at capacity, and they needed a way to expand their automation output. According to Burcu Alkan, Transformation Group Director at SOCAR Turkey, the firm needed to “change our automation game a little bit,” and realized that a “citizen development program was the best choice.”

Beyond their need for greater capacity, SOCAR Turkey realized that “business functions [needed] to find their own automation potential,” since the existing top-down approach didn’t encourage individual groups to discover their own automation opportunities. Plus, citizen development would decentralize automation expertise, spreading it throughout the organization rather than just within the digital transformation team.

For ConocoPhillips, the emphasis was on supporting the potential for thousands of small automations throughout its organization. While tiny improvements don’t provide a significant business impact individually, altogether, they’ve made workers across the company happier and more productive. Phillips attributes much of this success to UiPath StudioX. He described it as “a very powerful tool with a great ease of use and is thus very accessible to our citizen developers.” Phillips also identified UiPath Task Capture as particularly impactful, especially within the company’s finance and commercial departments.

Moreover, at large organizations like ConocoPhillips, teams are responsible for running all kinds of reports on a weekly basis. These tedious, monotonous tasks typically involve pulling data from a website or spreadsheet, reformatting it in a particular way, and sending it to someone or uploading it to a business intelligence tool.

Fortunately, the manual process of running reports makes for an ideal automation candidate. At ConocoPhillips, citizen developers across the company have created bots that can generate and send these reports, saving themselves hours each week.

But Phillips explained how citizen developers gain more than just time through their automations:

Without even building an automation, [citizen developers] have been able to visualize their task, their work in a way they haven't been able to before. So now they've got updated documentation, they've been refactoring processes, and really just have a better understanding of the purpose of their work for the company and how it fits into the greater [goal].

Colton Phillips, Citizen Development Lead, ConocoPhillips

Citizen development leads to impactful business outcomes at META and Wesco

All of the hard work that went into getting their citizen development programs up and running has paid off for META and Wesco in a number of ways.

Achieving more by optimizing existing resources at META

Danilo Barbosa, Digital Transformation Manager at META, recalled some challenging times at the company that required everyone to think creatively about being more efficient with less investment. Citizen development was immediately identified as a way to achieve this goal.

In its first two citizen developer cohorts, META gained more than 20 new automations across seven business teams. Despite budget adjustments, they’ve been able to avoid any customer support interruptions.

The benefits don’t end there—Barbosa noted that greater employee satisfaction has been one of the most important outcomes from their citizen development efforts. Many automation CoEs find they’re unable to fulfill every automation request due to capacity constraints and need to prioritize projects with sufficient enterprise value. At META, allowing individuals to create automations that don’t make the enterprise cut has made their work less tedious and more enjoyable.

Danilo Barbosa Digital Transformation Manager at META speaking at UiPath FORWARD VI

Image: Danilo Barbosa, Digital Transformation Manager at META, speaking on stage at UiPath FORWARD VI. Access the session recording.

Navigating the supply chain crisis at Wesco

Maxim Ioffe, Director of Global Intelligent Automation at Wesco, recounted that “being stuck in the middle of the supply chain crisis related to COVID” was a difficult time for his company.

To manage through the crisis, Wesco asked its citizen developers to create bots that could pull supplier data showing where particular products were in the supply chain at any point in time. They were then able to load this data into their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and help their customers get the products they needed, improving both operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

We see every citizen developer as an automation ambassador. We’re thinking of a citizen developer not as a person who is going to become a professional programmer but as somebody who can program the basics—but most importantly, can identify the use cases and promote our program. We give them ownership and see them as the primary drivers of the program’s success.

Maxim Ioffe, Director of Global Intelligent Automation, Wesco 

Essential ingredients for a successful citizen developer program 

So, how can you follow in the footsteps of these companies and facilitate your own successful citizen developer program? The specifics depend on your individual company and industry, but there are some overarching themes to keep in mind:

Focus on training and development

As Ioffe put it, “citizen developers will not come out of the woods and say, ‘hey, I'm ready for you. Go train me. Go help me out.' You’ve got to somehow engage them.”

I couldn’t agree more. Time and again, we see that well-run citizen development programs place a deliberate focus on training and support. Doing so provides a framework for new employees to become citizen developers, establishes automation best practices, and provides resources for people to ask questions.

Ioffe and the automation team at Wesco provide office hours and one-on-one support to help citizen developers become comfortable with automation and maximize their effectiveness. They also use UiPath Automation Hub to take in automation ideas, measure their ROI, and determine whether they’ll get built by the CoE or a citizen developer:

We try to make sure that every automation idea coming out of the field gets captured. And then if you're a citizen developer who wants to build it, that's amazing. Let's go ahead and get it built. If you are a citizen developer who wants to contribute by providing the ideas more so than implementing it, that's fine as well.

Maxim Ioffe, Director, Global Intelligent Automation, Wesco 

Any of Wesco’s more than 20,000 employees can submit an automation idea through Automation Hub.

Provide appropriate support 

Well-functioning citizen development programs require ongoing support from the organization. For Alkan and SOCAR Turkey, appropriate support means having reusable automation components, sufficient governance, and one-on-one sessions when needed. 

I need to thank our friends from UiPath. They were very helpful with structuring this [citizen development] model. We started with defining the governance model first—we defined what we expect from the developers, what we expect from functions, what we expect from the digital team, and what we expect from the executives. After defining it, it was just a matter of following what we defined to…continue the program [successfully].

Burcu Alkan, Transformation Group Director, SOCAR Turkey

At Wesco, the CoE collaborated with peers in IT and different business units to establish a governance structure that would promote smart, disciplined development, while still encouraging the innovative spirit of its citizen developers. 

The CoE also arranges for its professional developers to lend a hand to citizen developers on their projects, answer any UiPath Studio questions, and refine automations to be production-worthy.

Read more about how Wesco and SOCAR Turkey have created successful, scalable citizen developer programs in the “Citizen developers: Real-world stories of democratizing innovation” e-book. The e-book also includes citizen development best practices from Amazon, Carlsberg, Takeda, and other industry giants.

Claim your copy of the e-book.

What can you achieve through citizen development?

The outcomes that companies like META, SOCAR Turkey, Wesco, and ConocoPhillips have been able to achieve through citizen development are impressive, but there’s still so much potential out there. Most companies and industries are still in the early stages of their programs, if they’ve started at all.

Each company’s journey is unique, but one thing’s for sure—when done right, citizen development benefits everyone involved.

Editor's note: More insights and lessons from leaders at META, SOCAR Turkey, Wesco, and ConocoPhillips were shared on stage during FORWARD VI. For a limited time, you can register with your email to access all FORWARD VI session recordings.

sophiaz uipath
Sophia Zhylych

Product Marketing Manager, UiPath

Get articles from automation experts in your inbox

Get articles from automation experts in your inbox

Sign up today and we'll email you the newest articles every week.

Thank you for subscribing!

Thank you for subscribing! Each week, we'll send the best automation blog posts straight to your inbox.