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In the past decade, new tools have given subject area experts technical capabilities outside of their area of specialization.
We’ve seen this happen in:
- Marketing, to allow marketers to automate email and attribution workflows
- In sales, to make it easier for salespeople to manage their contacts and optimize their client services
- In business in general, to help professionals solve real business problems and streamline their work.
In these industries and many others, business users with deep domain expertise can now do advanced technical tasks without years of training in coding or data science.
It’s the rise of “citizen developers” and “citizen technologists.”
And it’s about time that the revolution reached the manufacturing industry.
What is a Citizen Developer?
Citizen Developers are workers who use no-code tools to build specialized business applications.
They’re folks whose job descriptions don’t call for software development or systems integration, who nonetheless find themselves doing the kind of things a developer or integrator would.
This kind of work is increasingly necessary as automation, process building, and “apps for everything” characterize the modern workplace.
And the need for citizen technologists is expected to grow over the new few years as organizations gain a competitive edge by arming their whole workforce with the power to design software solutions.
What is a citizen technologist in manufacturing?
Citizen technologist is a broader category than citizen developer. It extends to technical tasks not limited to application development or digital workflow construction.
In manufacturing, a citizen technologist is a frontline worker who performs technically advanced work outside of their area of specialization with the assistance of specialized tools and platforms.
Manufacturing work is already extremely technical. But with engineers increasingly expected to perform tasks previously accomplished by IT, software engineers, and data scientists, the number of skills a single quality or process engineer is expected to know has ballooned considerably.
Two categories of citizen technologists are particularly important in manufacturing: citizen developers and citizen data scientists.
So, in short:
- A citizen developer is able to build apps in IT-approved development environments.
- A citizen technologist controls advanced technologies and processes without a dedicated technology background.
- A citizen data scientist is able to extract insights from data using data analytics tools.
Why does manufacturing need citizen developers and citizen technologists now?
According to a 2018 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, more than half of the manufacturing jobs that will open in the next decade could remain unfilled due to the shifting skill sets required by new technologies. Computer skills, data analytics skills, digital skills and programming skills are becoming essential. But not enough workers with these skills are looking to go into manufacturing.
New shop floor technologies, such as Industrial IoT and artificial intelligence, require the statistical and machine learning expertise of data scientists.
However, there is currently a shortage of 250,000 data scientists in the US alone, meaning data scientists have the opportunity to be picky in their choice of industry.
Citizen technologists could fill the skills gap in manufacturing. With the proper tools, shop floor workers can create apps, manipulate data and operate computerized machinery, without any previous experience in these areas.
Technologies that are creating citizen technologists in manufacturing
Many new technologies are giving shop floor workers technological skills that could only be found in IT departments in the past. We will focus on two of these technologies:
1. No code platforms
No code platforms allow workers without technical training to build fully-functioning, enterprise-ready applications from scratch.
They provide a development environment that is designed to be intuitive. They commonly have a drag-and-drop interface, use if-then logic and event-based triggers, and collect production data as the app runs.
No code platforms are turning frontline engineers and operators into citizen developers. With no code, these workers can create apps to digitize their work instructions, to implement quality checks inline, to create self-directed training modules, to improve machine monitoring, etc.
2. Analytics software
IoT connectivity and cloud computing give manufacturers the ability to record real-time data on their operations. This data opens the door to better root-cause analysis, quantitative problem-solving, and real-time continuous improvement.
With modern analytics software, any shop floor worker can understand the insights that arise from data and become a citizen data scientist. Relevant metrics, such as cycle times, defect causes and step time by user, are visually displayed on dashboards. Thus, all employees can bring data-driven improvements to their work.
Benefits of democratizing technology
1. Save time and money
Citizen technologists are able to build apps and analyze data sets on their own, without wasting time waiting for someone from IT to do the work for them. Changes are implemented a lot more quickly.
The number of tickets in the pipeline will also be reduced, meaning your experts in IT will be able to focus on the projects that deliver the most value.
Furthermore, with the median base salary of a data scientist at $130K, and the average salary of software developers at $106K, creating citizen data scientists and citizen developers in your manufacturing company makes a lot of economic sense.
2. Leverage the knowledge that is already within your company
Citizen technologists’ primary function is not IT related. They are process engineers, machine operators, designers, maintenance engineers, plant operators by trade. They have years of knowledge of how your production lines work.
Those closest to problems on the shop floor understand them best. Therefore, frontline workers are the ones who have the most insight into how to solve problems and optimize production. This insight does not go to waste when these workers are cross-trained as citizen technologists.