When we hear about a new shiny thing or idea promising to change our lives, it is natural to ask “Is it real?” We may have learned the hard way that if something sounds too good to be true, it very well may be.
So when people hear about citizen developers who are people in business or operations roles building and maintaining applications without having to write code, people may wonder how business-oriented people with Excel skills can do what traditionally required highly technically skilled programmers to do. After hearing that citizen developers can build applications in less time than professional developers, people may reasonably ask “Is it real?”
In a live online session on December 13, 2016, we showed how citizen developers are real. First, we started out by presenting survey data from the industry’s second annual State of Citizen Development report. In addition to surveying our customers that are engaged in citizen development, we surveyed the broader population of organizations that are engaged in traditional application development methods. Based on their own experiences, our customers reported that their citizen developers typically build an application in less than 2 weeks without writing any code. Non-customer organizations reported that their professional developers using traditional methods typically require 2-6 months or longer to develop a custom application. Not only does citizen development deliver new and updated applications into the hands of business users faster, those applications fit user needs better because of the deep business data and process knowledge contributed by citizen developers during the development process.
Second, we conducted a live interview with a citizen developer who has been eschewing traditional development methods since 2009. John Harvey, a Business Intelligence manager at Micron Consumer Products Group, has primarily used his business, rather than technical skills, to build applications in support of a variety of business processes for his company’s Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations and other teams across the globe.
Here are excerpts of the Q&A from the live interview (edited for brevity and clarity):
How did you first get started as a citizen developer? What was your first app?
My boss realized that there was an opportunity for us to improve our efficiency. We have this process where Sales wants to put in a request and get a discount off of our price lists for a customer. That process before QuickBase involved writing something up in an Excel spreadsheet and sending it as an email to a Pricing Manager, Product Marketing and Finance. You would end up having maybe 4 or 5 different versions of the spreadsheet, everyone putting their two cents in and the poor sales guy going, “How do I know when I can tell them whether that price is approved or not?”
The process was taking us about a week to get the final results back. My boss came to me and said, “Is there something we can do to make it faster, a little more clear for the sales guy?” That’s where we said, “Let’s check out QuickBase.” Within a week, I had an app put together and he looked at it and said, “This looks great, let’s give it a try.” We launched it in Europe. From there it just grew and expanded. We made changes and adjustments and now we are doing that kind of process for the company across the globe. We have over 200 users now using the application.
What was the impact on your business?
It was phenomenal. With QuickBase, we were able to put that workflow in the system and Sales can tell very quickly where it is in the process, who is looking at it, and when it is finally approved. It is very clear for everyone to see.
How do you identify new uses for citizen development apps?
When I first started, I said, “Let me show you what QuickBase is doing and how we are using it.” I looked for inefficiencies in the company and how I could make those better. We are at a point now where there has been so much productivity gain and people appreciate the value of having processes go through QuickBase that people come to me and say, “We have got this process. Could you do something in QuickBase for us?” Word of mouth has just gone crazy.
What technical skills do you have? What skills do you use in building QuickBase apps?
My background was in accounting and I did get a computer information systems degree. I did learn all about table relationships, joins, web coding and things like that. But my role in the business hadn’t used a whole lot of those skills. When it came to QuickBase, I found that it was even easier. I didn’t have to write any code. The one area I ran into it a little bit was table relationships where you make one table connect to another table. QuickBase has made it really simple. I am now tending into a little more of the complex stuff, within this last year, looking into Webhooks, page refreshes, URL buttons and things like that. But for the majority of the time, I really haven’t needed to use any of those skills.
How long does it take for you to build a QuickBase app?
The first app took me about a week to put together to make sure that I understood the process. What I find now is I can have a working app in an hour depending on the user’s needs. One of the fastest ways for me to build is to book meetings directly with the users and in the meeting I actually open up QuickBase and start building right then. You show me your Excel spreadsheet – that’s going to be a table, and show me the rows – that’s going to be the fields. I find that works so well because they get to see exactly how the screens are going to look, how the forms are going to function, if they want an email – what that looks like. That usually blows them away. They are very impressed with how quick and responsive that is. I can walk away from a meeting and have a viable rough draft within an hour and have an 80 to 90 percent solution within 2 to 3 hours.
How much of your job involves building or maintaining QuickBase apps?
I spend about 70% of my time in QuickBase, either maintaining or doing added things. What I found is that development time really isn’t where I have to spend a lot of the time. Some people are hesitant to see change and some people are uncomfortable with the idea that their process is going to change. I spend more of my time now trying to work through that stuff.
Do you build apps from scratch or from existing apps that you built or from the QuickBase Exchange?
I like the QuickBase Exchange to see ways to solve problems, how other people worked through or are approaching it. I loaded one of my apps into the Exchange to show how to do role management. I generally like to start from scratch “blank slate” because I am taking existing processes from users and if they have a field that they are calling “Sales order” then I want make sure that my field is called “Sales order” not “SO” or “SO#” or “Sales_order.” It really helps with that kind of hand holding through a process change like that.
Do other people build or make changes to apps at Micron?
I have had a few users ask and I have trained a few of them. What I have found that is really helpful for me is giving them more specific duties. Want to build an app? Not a problem, happy to show you. Want to make it this custom thing? That’s fine. If you want to book an hour, we can build it together and it will be ready for you. Usually they are pretty excited about that. But what I have found is certain users in certain roles add new users to applications, some are doing approvals, and some are Finance people I end up training on how to build their own reports.
What role does IT play?
Not very much. At one point, they came to me and said, “What are you doing?” I showed them QB but as soon as they saw it was SOX compliant and that the business was paying the costs and that they didn’t need to do any of the development or maintenance of it, they were just fine with letting me go with that.
What have you found are the benefits of using a citizen development platform in your role?
QuickBase has been great for our company in terms of efficiency gains. I have what I call a three-flag approach. When someone comes to me if they are using a spreadsheet to store information, that is one flag. If they end up sending that spreadsheet to other people in order for them to use it, that is a second flag. If they are dependent on either the spreadsheet or the email or some combination of those for an approval, that is three flags and this should be done in QuickBase because it is so much better to handle that process. If you want to put in a row or record or piece of information, somebody probably wants to get notified about that. With QuickBase that is an email notification. When it starts one way and this scenario happens and we have to update the record, wouldn’t you want to track that, show when it changed and how its changed? QuickBase can do that. Those kind of challenges are things that spreadsheets and emails make it tricky to be able to track and do that with. I find that QB works really well for that. In my business, this has been the “bread-and-butter” huge gains across the board any time we run into the three-flag scenario.
(End of interview)
Based on the results of the study and the interview, it is clear that citizen development is one of those things in life that both sounds good and, in reality, is truly good for you and your organization.
To learn more about how organizations are driving higher sales utilizing citizen development, watch the on-demand webinar, “2016 State of Citizen Development”.
Posted in Citizen Development, Rapid Application Development | Tagged app dev, app development, citizen development, john harvey, Low-code app development, manual processes