Understanding Citizen Developers: Your Secret Weapon in Scaling Automation

what are citizen developers key to scaling automation

Editor's note: 

For an updated look at successful citizen developer programs, including UiPath customers who have launched citizen development programs that are transforming their businesses and empowering their employees, check out our new e-book.

Original blog post:

We all have that one person on our team who’s constantly up to date with new technologies, checking out new tools, and learning new skills.

To put a name to the imaginary face, let’s call this honorary superstar Elisabeth.

Every few weeks, Elisabeth will come to the team with a new, bleeding-edge productivity or project management tool and tell everyone about how it’ll change their work lives (or maybe their outside-work lives, too). When you give presentations, or if there’s a challenge to solve, Elisabeth is the first to ask questions and work on creative new solutions.

Elisabeth is what we would call a high performer. And she’s the perfect kind of person to become a citizen developer (insert epic superhero music here).

Citizen developer has been a popular buzzword for enterprise technologies since, as John K. Waters wrote in 2012, Gartner analysts declared that “We’re all developers now.” As digital transformation has received more and more focus in the last three years, this new term has emerged to describe the non-technical developers who push transformation forward.

But if you find yourself asking, “Well, what is a citizen developer?” you’re not alone. And we’re here to break down what this new position within the modern, automated enterprise is all about.

As you’ll soon find out, people like Elisabeth are your key to scaling automation, and they play a unique role in your automation journey.

Let’s clear things up: the definition of a citizen developer

At their core, citizen developers are people like Elisabeth who don’t have formal coding experience but can think critically and enjoy a challenge.

Formally, we define a citizen developer as:

A non-technical user that creates simple automations for themselves and their departments.

Citizen developers play a vital role in helping you scale the technologies that underpin your digital transformation.

Organizationally, they sit between your automation users—folks who use software robots but don’t have the skills to build them—and your automation developers—those who have technical training and work with your robotic center of excellence (CoE) on advanced automations.


Unlike your automation developers and IT teams, citizen developers like Elisabeth only build new automations using pre-approved technologies. Their creations are used most often on an individual and team level, though your CoE may find that citizen-developed automations have a broader use across the organizations.

Citizen developers are your eyes and ears at the grassroots level for finding great automation opportunities that would otherwise go unnoticed. By crowdsourcing your automation inspiration you’re able to scale faster by casting a wider net of automation development than would be possible with a top-down automation rollout alone.


The skills your citizen developers need to succeed

So, what skills and experience should your citizen developers have? In our experience, it’s less about their exact skillset and more about what kind of people they are.

Above all else, your citizen developers should be interested in learning new activities.

These employees shouldn’t be hard to find: 86% of employees say they want more opportunities to learn new skills, and 83% wish their company gave them a way to upgrade current skills.

Citizen Developers are empowered problem-solvers from the various lines of business who have the drive and determination to engage in app development even though they lack traditional coding skills.

QuickBase The State of Citizen Development Report 2015

If your company is willing to invest in employees’ skills, and your employees are eager to learn, it’s a match made in heaven.

Beyond a willingness to learn, though, we’ve noticed there are a few other qualifications that will make the learning curve easier to tackle:

  • They can work with tools like Microsoft Excel to do things like create tables, sort and filter data, and rearrange information from a database

  • They understand the processes that support their department (and the ability to draw out their workflows)

  • They feel a desire to bring new technologies into their teams’ workspaces

  • (Bonus) They’ve had some informal technical experience to help them get up to speed even faster

When you find and empower these superstar employees with automation tools like those within the UiPath Discovery Suite (part of the UiPath Platform), you can tap into their curiosity and drive to build new and exciting automations to make work (and life) easier.

Why you need citizen developers to unlock automation at scale

The short answer: your IT teams and CoE can only do so much.

The long answer: you need citizen developers to take the pressure off your automation developers and help you support employees’ everyday work with software robots.

You need citizen developers to help you scale automation for three main reasons:

  1. There’s a whole world of automation beyond company-wide robots.

  2. Your IT team’s pipeline won’t have room for every automation request.

  3. The people who know your team-level work the best are the ones on those teams.

Let’s break down why citizen developers are the key to unlocking automation at scale.

1. There’s a whole world of automation beyond top-level robots

The truth is that there’s more to digital transformation than automating the processes that span the top level of your company. To truly become an ‘automation first’ enterprise, you need to tackle personal and departmental automation, as well as individual automation. And citizen developers are the key to doing so.

Traditional enterprise technology upgrades have been led from the top down, spearheaded by a CoE. If you’ve ever been part of a “traditional” rollout, we don’t need to remind you how slow the process is.

When applied to digital transformation, this traditional approach means that the processes a CoE looks at are only a small slice of the robotic pie.

Citizen developers help the CoE by speeding up how quickly personal and department-level automations can be developed and brought online. While your automation developers work on big, organization-wide automations, citizen developers can find day-to-day uses for automation tools in their own work.

Basically, for digital transformation to work, automation needs to touch all layers inside the company, and citizen developers are the grassroots evangelists.

2. Your IT team’s pipeline won’t have room for every automation request

It’s a tale as old as enterprise business itself: you need an app built, a new tool integrated, or data for your latest project, but your IT team has a month-long queue of backlog to get through first.

It’s a tale so old and well known, in fact, that 71% of IT and 77% business leaders know their IT teams’ pipelines are frozen with unbuilt projects. If your IT department is distracted with simple automation requests—the kind that citizen developers can handle—this problem will only grow as you scale.

Citizen developers help reduce the load on your IT department, making room for higher-priority work that needs an expert eye.

You can give time back to your IT folks by empowering citizen developers to build personal automations themselves. This will allow your full-fledged developers and IT experts to focus on bigger strategic targets, like reducing costs and sharpening your competitive edge through digital transformation.

Future citizen-developed applications will leverage IT investments below the surface, allowing IT to focus on deeper architectural concerns, while end users focus on wiring together services into business processes and workflows.

Eric Knipp, Senior Research Analyst, Gartner

Citizen developers provide another layer of automation creation and support for your organization, freeing up not just themselves and their teammates but your IT folks, too.

3. The people who know your ground-level processes best are the ones using them

No one person within your organization can know every single process that supports the business as a whole, even the most detail-oriented CoE member. Instead, leaders and CoEs need to leverage the on-the-ground experience of everyday employees to ensure automation is adopted down to the root level of the organization.

Citizen developers can save themselves and their teammates from tedious work by automating away their most mundane tasks. The best part? You’re enabling people to solve their own problems with automation before they bubble up to your and your CoE’s awareness level.

This helps your organization realize what we call the long-tail of automation or the 40%+ of tasks that can only be automated when you empower employee-driven demand.


The moral of the story is that you should empower a lot of people to design change at every level of your company. Part of that is empowering employees with automation to solve problems at the grassroots level. Because they’re the ones who know the process the best, and they can do a lot of good if they have the tools.

Start empowering citizen developers with automation—today

In response to a faster, more agile, and digitally oriented world, we need to democratize access to technology, enabling a broader set of experts to help co-create technology assets.

-Gavin Mee, Managing Director for UK and Ireland, UiPath

You don’t need to have hundreds of people ready to build automations to start leveraging the power of citizen developers. Instead, focus on getting a pilot program up and running with a small group of folks most interested in using automation. Give them the time and support to experiment and arm them with the tools they need to innovate.

One of our favorite examples comes from PwC, which reskilled and upskilled their entire 55,000-person United States (U.S.) workforce as part of their “Your Tomorrow” initiative. The company started out with a group of 1,000 self-selected citizen developers and taught them how to program software robots and use cutting-edge tools like UiPath. These newly up-leveled employees then went on to act as change ambassadors to improve the adoption of automation.

Thanks to this program, PwC beat their competitors’ attrition rates by 15 to 20 points and boosted employee engagement scores by 20% to 30%. By investing in their employees—and giving them the room and permission to experiment and grow—they’ve fueled automation democratization at scale.

As PwC can attest, citizen developers are your key to realizing greater automation potential than ever before possible—find out more about the important role they play in your digital transformation.

UiPath not only has the products specifically designed for citizen developers, but we’re dedicated to making automation education for a variety job positions. The best part is that your would-be citizen developers can get started on their own today.

magda neagu uipath blog
Magda Neagu

Director, Product Marketing, UiPath

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