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Data / Tech Culture

Support Citizen IT to Democratize Your Data 

The concept of Citizen IT is grounded in the understanding that data must be democratized across an organization so that business users can create the applications and services they need to be successful — quickly.
May 19th, 2022 10:00am by
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Ben Haynes
Ben Haynes is the cofounder and CEO of Directus, the leading open data platform. As the original creator of Directus, Ben leads a growing team of international developers, designers and contributors to support the Directus suite of products and its cloud-based Backend-as-a-Service offering. He has more than two decades of experience leading digital design teams, having held senior leadership positions at multiple startups as well as larger organizations, such as AOL and SoulCycle. Ben is a published author and official member of the Forbes Technology Council and holds a BFA in communication from the University of Connecticut.

“It takes a village.”

Sure, it’s cliché, but when it comes to developing innovative apps and digital experiences in our data-driven world, the phrase is still relevant. The pace of change in today’s evolving marketplace means organizations must act fast — and this reality has led to the growing popularity of “Citizen IT,” the practice of enabling non-technical business users to develop data-driven applications, without help from IT.

The concept of Citizen IT is grounded in the understanding that data must be democratized across an organization so that business users can create the applications and services they need to be successful — quickly. Democratizing data to enable Citizen IT provides a competitive advantage to organizations that adopt it: McKinsey found those that do score 33% higher on innovation measures than those that don’t.

While trusting business users to do software development tasks may sound like risky business, modern open data platforms are democratizing data by enabling secure and properly scoped access, along with elegant low-code/no-code (LCNC) apps that anyone can use — technical and non-technical users alike.

Innovation at the Speed of Business

Despite companies generating and collecting more and more data, their ability to leverage it across the organization has been limited by a shortage of technical talent. When a business unit or team needs to create a data-driven project, they’re at the mercy of IT professionals, who are likely already overtaxed with their own projects and managing the company’s IT infrastructure. Depending on how overloaded IT is with other mission-critical projects at the time of the request, it may take months to even get started.

Unfortunately, the market and your competitors don’t wait, and often by the time IT gets around to the project, either the business’s priorities have changed or the competition has beaten you to the punch. As a result, your organization can lose out on opportunities to improve productivity or drive revenue with what could have been an innovative business app or digital experience.

Democratizing data changes all that. It enables business users to bootstrap themselves and take on traditionally technical projects so they can execute rapidly on their goals and objectives. When non-technical employees are empowered to access data and build apps on their own, innovation accelerates and the business reaps myriad benefits:

  • Remove data silos: In any organization, data silos exist. At the department level, teams take siloed approaches to build out the apps and services they need when they need them. Maybe one team finds an off-the-shelf solution and another builds one from scratch. The organization ends up with a mix of bespoke and one-size-fits-all solutions, none of them talking to each other and all of them pulling data from disparate sources that must be maintained separately. This becomes extremely costly and problematic over the long term. By democratizing data using distinct, customized portals in a single system of record, every solution can be built to fit the specific requirements of any team or department. Everyone leverages a single source of truth for company data, eliminating data silos as well as the cost and effort that goes with managing them.
  • Eliminate technical debt: To adopt a Citizen IT approach, you have to ensure business users are building apps correctly and not adding technical debt to your organization’s technology estate. By democratizing data through an open data platform, you can ensure business apps are architected properly on the backend in a way that’s compatible with apps built by other departments or external platforms. With a solid foundation supporting the various business apps and experiences, you’re always moving forward, and there’s no fear of having to refactor poorly constructed applications from scratch later on when it’s time to make changes or connect them with other mission-critical applications.
  • Right-the-first-time development: When a business unit approaches IT with a proposed project — an app or digital experience like a website or digital display — they must first spend a lot of time and effort communicating the requirements. A team may know exactly what they want to develop, but describing it in terms that IT professionals can understand is sometimes challenging. To get it right, ongoing collaboration is necessary, and there’s often a lot of inefficient back-and-forth via chat and email channels throughout the development lifecycle. This can lead to miscommunications and frustration, long and frequent meetings, late nights and missed deadlines — and too often, the finished product doesn’t quite meet expectations. When business users are empowered to build the experience themselves with safe, API-driven data connectivity and an intuitive no-code app for building out the presentation layer, this game of “telephone” is avoided. There’s no need to communicate domain-specific nuances to engineers.  More importantly, the business unit gets exactly the application they envision. They can apply their specialty to the use case and build a solution that serves the intended purpose better — which, in many cases, leads to a better customer experience.
  • Lighten the load for IT: By empowering everyday “citizens” to develop data-driven apps and experiences on their own, IT is freed up to focus on more strategic projects and initiatives that benefit the business. There’s no need to staff up IT with additional high-paid specialists to meet increasing demands, and existing IT staff doesn’t have to spend time collaborating with other teams for months during app development. The cost savings is significant, and time and budget can be reallocated to higher-level technology initiatives.

Beyond these important benefits, the true power of data democratization lies in its ability to enable teams and departments to determine and act on their priorities without getting stuck in an IT request queue or having to work within the constraints of an opinionated point of view. There are always iterative updates and enhancements to make — if they have to be routed through engineering, it’s challenging to truly hone a project based on real-world usage. With an open data platform, teams can say, “This is a priority for us, and we’re going to make it happen now.” And because of the inherent flexibility of an open data platform, in the future, they can pivot easily to adapt to changing needs and requirements — without having to wait for engineers to help and without having to rebuild from scratch.

When Everyone Contributes, Success Is Inevitable

With the goal of democratizing data, open data platforms are built to mold themselves to what an organization needs in the moment, providing the agility to stay modern and current and helping teams execute on their objectives and initiatives more efficiently and cost-effectively.

And remember: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When bright minds from every department can contribute their ideas and expertise to an organization’s technical innovations, there’s no limit to what can be created.

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