Citizen development platforms are one of the most exciting developments in manufacturing technology.

If you work in IT, they can also be one of the most anxiety inducing.  

Giving front line workers the power to build manufacturing applications can raise justified concerns: 

  • Who will govern the platform?
  • How will permissions be controlled?
  • Will there be unexpected data privacy violations?
  • Can unauthorized or accidental changes be pushed to production?
  • Will a fleet of new devices tax network infrastructure?
  • How secure is the platform?
  • Will we wind up with a wild-west approach to version control?

When you list it all out, there are many reasons to closely vet new manufacturing software. 

But they’re not reasons to stop citizen development cold.

WIth the value citizen developers are delivering on the shop floor, they’re all reasons that IT and citizen developers should work together.

In this post we’ll make the argument that IT and citizen developers should learn to get along. What’s more, we’ll layout a framework you can use for fostering positive, productive relationships.  

What is a Citizen Developer

It helps to start with a really quick definition of citizen development. 

[If you want a more complete breakdown, check out our post on citizen development in manufacturing here]

Citizen developers are workers who build production-ready applications in roles outside of IT or software engineering. 

Though their job description doesn’t call for coding, app development, or engineering, they still build applications for accomplishing targeted business goals. 

Usually, citizen developers use no code platforms to build apps. These platforms give workers without software expertise the ability to build apps through a drop-and-drop style interface. 

Why citizen development?

There are many reasons citizen development is on the mind of organizations right now. 

The benefits are pretty straight forward:

According to a recent Gartner report, as many as 41% of surveyed enterprises have citizen development programs, with another 21% planning to implement one.

Manufacturing specific concerns

If you work in manufacturing, you know that shop floor operations aren’t the same as office work. Manufacturing is physical. It’s always going to have unique IT concerns. 

So it makes sense that manufacturing IT groups have unique concerns for their citizen developers. 

Every Plant is Unique

Manufacturing processes are complex. They can vary day-to-day.

This makes citizen development especially necessary. It enables engineers to build critical applications while freeing IT to work on more focused back-end and infrastructural projects. 

Further, there’s increasingly little distance between IT and OT in the modern factory. This means that front line groups are, necessarily, going to have to work closely with IT. 

That said, this new intimacy between job functions can create tension. 

To maximize the value of citizen development initiatives, IT and citizen developers should cultivate a close working relationship. 

How manufacturing IT is organized

The way IT groups are organized in manufacturing matters just as much as operational concerns. 

For one, many manufacturers don’t have dedicated IT groups. This is especially true for SME manufacturers.. Without resources to manage infrastructure or applications development, there’s a heightened need for citizen developers. 

In larger companies, a global IT might manage technology policy. These groups could be responsible for setting policy and vetting tools for dozens of sites. In these cases, communication can be a big hurdle. 

In either case, IT resources are overburdened as it is without needing to micromanage citizen developer efforts.

We’re painting in extremely broad strokes here, but the point stands. Alignment between IT and the shop floor is crucial.

So the question becomes: 

How do you empower citizen developers on the shop floor without making life harder for IT? 

How to build a positive relationship

We’ve worked with hundreds of IT teams to bring citizen development tools to the shop floor. Here’s are some concrete 

  1. IT, Know what to look for in a citizen developer
  2. Create a working group to manage the citizen development platform
  3. Let IT control governance and permissions
  4. And let citizen developers handle app development
  5. IT should evaluate citizen development tools

Let’s look at each in turn. 

1.) IT, know what to look for in a citizen developer

Sometimes, citizen developers will come to you. These are great situations and can be the start of productive working relationships.

Just as often, IT will need to work with engineers to roll out a manufacturing platform. 

Successful citizen developers usually have some experience with programming languages. They understand business process logic. They have experience with data collection and analysis, and basic facility with databases. 

Most of all, they have a deep, deep understanding of manufacturing problems and what it takes to solve them. (As well a curiosity about new tools and a drive for using them). 

If you can think of an individual who fits this description, they’re a great candidate to lead citizen development initiatives in you operations.

2.) Create a working group with reps from both sides

Not to add unnecessary meetings to your calendar.

But projects that involve citizen developers (or a representative who manages the project) in IT projects have a significantly higher chance of success. 

These meetings are chances to share common goals, align on the needs and priorities of both sides, and create a dialogue. 

Ultimately, this is about identifying blocks and collaborating on challenges that help meet mutual manufacturing goals. 

3.) Let IT control governance and permissions

This is a no brainer. It’s what IT does. 

Citizen development platforms work because they let developers build apps in a “sandbox” environment. Nothing unnecessary is exposed to the citizen developer. And IT can ensure that they only have the permissions necessary to do their work. 

4.) And let citizen developers build apps

Manufacturing applications require fast iteration. They work best when end users can modify as production calls for it.

So solidifying the division of labor helps keep the project moving forward. 

5.) IT should get involved in the evaluation process early

No one knows how to manage information systems better than IT. And no one knows better how new tools will fit into existing networks and architectures. 

So it’s crucial that IT is involved in the vetting and scoping process from the beginning. 

This level of collaboration and involvement from the beginning can prevent unnecessary headaches from the beginning.

Here’s a quick list of features IT can look for to simplify the process: 

  • Apps ready out-of-the-box
  • Ease of building apps
  • Ease of system integration
  • Cost of application platform
  • Can support complicated manufacturing processes and integrations
  • Cloud-based 

Conclusions

When it comes down to it, IT and citizen developers can do more working together than they can in isolation. 

The key to successful projects is to communicate and create understand across the technical divide. 

If you’re curious how Tulip can empower your citizen developer and IT groups, get in touch