Complex Made Simple

How the citizen developer can plug the region’s skills gaps  

Where before, discussions on digital transformation were optimistic yet studious, now a sense of urgency has gripped us. We know we need to look at efficient means for business continuity, and automation

In Saudi, only 11% of the workforce is trained in coding and 2% in data and analytics Low-code environments are intuitive, so training is not as arduous as with traditional software engineers Organizations must manage low-code capabilities once they have built their communities of citizen developers

By: Mark Ackerman, area VP, Middle East & Africa, ServiceNow

When facing crises, eventually humans find a way to overcome the challenge — no matter how deep or how wide — and move on. The COVID pandemic did hamper the region’s steady economic growth, but now nations across the GCC are rebuilding and looking to the future. Where before, discussions on digital transformation were optimistic yet studious, now a sense of urgency has gripped us. We know we need to look at efficient means for business continuity, and automation, or rather augmentation — which decreases the burden on labor and allows it to become more productive and innovative — is the obvious route.

This is where a skilled workforce becomes critical, particularly one with data and coding skills. Today’s young people need to be ready for these higher-value jobs, but the region faces talent gaps that need to be plugged. In Saudi Arabia, for example, only 11% of the workforce is trained in coding and 2% in data and analytics. In the UAE, the National Program for Coders has been designed to plug some of these gaps, by creating 100,000 golden visas to attract digital talent and building a skills base of 100,000 coders, supported by 1,000 digital companies and 500 internships. The private sector needs to capitalize on such schemes and do its part. Skills gaps cost economies money in terms of lost growth opportunities. It is time to find a way to create these coders.

The citizen developer

One way forward is to create citizen developers. These are non-technical people who create digital solutions by applying their domain and business knowledge, and other skills, to problems by using low-code development platforms. They can build a rich array of digital workflows and other capabilities to solve real-world issues. They have a distinct advantage. Typically, they already work in a capacity that allows them to identify a business need. They understand the problem, eliminating the need for requirements gathering, which can not only be a long process but can fail to capture the scenario, leading to costly missteps. The citizen developer can build their way out of a challenge using intuitive, modular orchestrations that eliminate workaday tasks and deliver real value.

 

Think of the benefits, once citizen developers have mastered the roster of capabilities open to them through low-code platforms. More problems spotted, more problems solved. Lower costs. Quicker time to market. More value. And all from a band of professionals who are business-first thinkers by definition and who have probably never heard of Python, Java, or C#. Meanwhile, IT teams can turn their attention to more innovative, strategic projects, adding even more value. And then organizations get an operations model that is beginning to look a lot like innovation in action.

For some time, industry insiders and analysts have been predicting a swing towards citizen development. But the GCC has a significant incentive to make it happen. It would go a long way towards delivering on some of the digital-oriented goals of the region’s economic visions. Building digital societies is a natural step here. The GCC has a bottom-heavy demographic pyramid, with almost half of the UAE’s population, for example, between the ages of 15 and 35. These are tech-savvy digital natives who will be easily trained in low-code design. But before reallocating the solutions-building role from IT to domain specialists, enterprises will need to undergo some changes in culture.

1- Hire for business roles, not coding roles

Low-code environments are intuitive, so training is not as arduous as when churning out traditional software engineers. Problem solvers can confront business challenges without having to translate issues into formal, IT-oriented documentation like use cases, specifications, architecture designs, database schemas, and pseudocode. All recruiters need to look for in candidates is business knowledge.

Low-code platforms also have the potential to increase the diversity of workforces, thereby improving business outcomes, because a range of individuals with different talents will now have direct access to the tools of problem-solving.

2- Equip them, train them, support them

The right tools will be vital, but training and support are even more so. Organizations must manage low-code capabilities once they have built their communities of citizen developers. Governance standards should prevent whimsical project initiation by well-intentioned enthusiasts in favor of measured, business-oriented progress by committee. This will ensure value is added at a pace that suits the business.

3- Encourage a community spirit

Business leaders should involve themselves in the citizen development environment, to ensure that IT is behind it and adding value rather than resisting innovation. The enterprise should work towards a scenario where business experts can focus on business issues while IT teams look after access, security, and governance. Forums to share tips and tricks, as well as success stories, are out there. Stakeholders must ensure their low-code citizenry takes part.

No more gaps

Across the region, we hear enterprises will rise or fall on the quality of their digital transformation. The skills gaps that stand in the way of progress can be plugged by citizen developers, as low code empowers the domain expert to move forward without having to wait for processes and IT workflow to catch up. Thus, they take their place in an augmented (not automated) business environment.