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5 reasons your citizen developers could build your next business application on Microsoft's Power Platform

by Mike Turnbull : Innovate

5 reasons your citizen developers could build your next business application on Microsoft's Power Platform


In part 1 of this blog series we looked at 3 ways the Power Platform is empowering transformation, so if you're on board with the idea of empowering select members of your staff with Microsoft's Power Platform then let's discuss how you can empower your staff to start using the Power Platform.

From your experience as an IT manager, you know that designing and delivering business applications is not straightforward, and the implications of a business application going wrong can be far-reaching and expensive to remedy. So as we're thinking about how to empower non-IT citizen developers the phrase: "Don't give them enough string to hang themselves" is quite apt.

The important question here is: what types of business applications are best suited to being delivered by citizen developers?

Here's our non-exhaustive checklist to run through for each business application being considered for building by citizen developers:

#1 Is the business application for internal use only?

Applications for internal use are known as B2E (business-to-employee) applications, other well-known types are B2C (business-to-consumer), and B2B (business-to-business). The general rule of thumb is that B2E applications are lower-risk since they don't directly influence the vital relationships your business has with customers, suppliers, or partners - of course, B2E applications likely indirectly influence these relationships so they are still important.

#2 Do the end-users belong in the same team/department?

Applications generally reflect the communication structures of their organisation (known as Conway's Law). But innovative business applications are sometimes those that forge new, more efficient communication lines which improve the organisation's communication structure, this can be exciting, but also requires a degree of change management for the application to be adopted successfully. To avoid implicitly asking your citizen developers to jump over this change management hurdle it is probably safer to constrain the end-users of the application to those within a pre-established communication structure such as a team, or department - so that if the application does go wrong, it is easier to communicate with the end-users to fix the problem and find temporary workarounds while the system is repaired.

#3 Are there a small number of end-users?

In most cases, there is a positive correlation between the number of end-users and an application's complexity. If the business process that the application is being built around has a small number of process stakeholders who will become end-users of the application then this will help contain the complexity required by the application.

#4 Is there a viable rollback option?

Many manual business processes are supported by Excel spreadsheets that have been created by the business users as a quasi business application for their process. Many of the opportunities for the Power Platform to be exploited in your organisation will involve converting existing Excel spreadsheet solutions into a PowerApps user interface, storing data in a more sophisticated manner such as in SharePoint lists, the Common Data Service, or even Azure SQL Server, and automating some of the process with Automate (previously Flow). This journey of digitising your manual process and realising some of the benefits of digital technology is exciting, but what happens when things go wrong? (And they will - Murphys Law). How will the end-users continue to work through their business process without a working business application? If there isn't a viable rollback option then the only option is to sit tight and hopefully the application can be fixed ASAP. This may or may not be acceptable to the process stakeholders, so would it be feasible for the end-users to resort back to a version of their system temporarily? It's not ideal - but it's better than nothing.

#5 Does the business have an appetite?

It's not true of everyone but generally, technology can be a little bit like marmite - people either love it or hate it, in other words - they get excited about it, or they just moan about it. Any regular front-line team carrying out the business as usual processes probably have a mix of technology lovers and haters, you need to find the teams where the tipping point has been reached - where there are more lovers than haters. One of the core tenets of citizen development is that it empowers the problem owners to be the problem solvers. The Power Platform should only be considered for teams where there is sufficient appetite for technology which can help them solve their problems.

Wrapping up

The Power Platform is a powerful suite of tools that have been designed for citizen developers, as you embrace the Power Platform and the idea behind citizen development there may be a temptation to use it for everything, because of Maslow's hammer: "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". The reality is that not everything is a nail, and the important task is to help your organisation identify the correct opportunities for citizen development and the Power Platform. This will help you accurately position the use of low code development in your organisation's transformation strategy. This blog post is part of a series: 'How best to position the Power Platform for your organisation'. 

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