Citizen Development: the New Productivity Engine for Corporate Treasurers

Published  3 MIN READ

‘Citizen development’ is about encouraging non-IT professionals to learn software development skills. With the roll-out of low-code platforms, can treasurers really start creating their own business applications?

Citizen developers are employees who don’t have a coding background but do have the skills to create or customise applications to solve business problems, cost-efficiently boosting productivity without having to rely heavily on the IT department. It’s a concept that is well-suited to treasury and finance functions.

The process is aided by the introduction of an increasing number of ‘low-code’ platforms. These contain pre-written code that gives users a simple, highly visual way of building and modifying the applications themselves. They do so by offering a straightforward means of connecting a range of relevant components across various business units, then enabling testing and reconfiguration before publishing the results as new code for others in the organisation to use.

Despite citizen development reportedly emerging as a hot trend in 2020, the reality is that many citizen developers lack the tools they need to empower them. I believe it is now time for finance and corporate treasury teams to better enable their citizen developers by choosing the right platform to drive automation.

Empowering, not hindering

Gartner predicted at the start of 2021 that the low-code market would reach $13.8bn by the end of the year. This would be an increase of 22.6% compared 2020. “While low-code application development is not new, a confluence of digital disruptions, hyper automation and the rise of composable business has led to an influx of tools and rising demand,” comments Fabrizio Biscotti, Research Vice President, Gartner.

Indeed, the idea of the citizen developer grew in popularity during the pandemic, it being seen as a crucial means of driving digital transformation through the use of low-code environments. “The economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have validated the low-code value proposition,” Biscotti adds. “Low-code capabilities that support remote work functions, such as digital forms and workflow automation, will be offered with more elastic pricing since they will be required to keep the lights on.”

To this end, Gartner also notes that “all of the major software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors currently provide capabilities that incorporate low-code development technologies”. To leverage this opportunity, finance and treasury teams must pick a platform capable of empowering, rather than hindering, their citizen developers. Arguably, fulfilling the promise of citizen development in 2022 rests on the adoption of appropriate robotic process automation (RPA).

Perfect for treasury

The wider finance function is ripe for automation and citizen development has a significant role to play. McKinsey research estimates that 42% of finance activities can be fully automated with another 19% mostly ready for robots to handle.

However, the increasing demand on IT teams to create custom solutions in this space is arguably slowing down the roll-out of automation. Citizen developers, with their specialist professional knowledge, are therefore an essential part of picking up the pace, improving efficiency and capturing ROI.

They have the potential to free up IT time, affording a greater focus on higher-value tasks as they begin automating processes such as month/year-end reports, spreadsheet consolidation, and managing AP/AR activities.

Right tools

If citizen developers are seen as an important part of achieving productivity gains, then the right tools are required. AI-powered automation underpins the citizen development movement, but in 2021 the typical RPA user interface or workflow tool still required considerable training to extract optimal value for users and their organisations.

This means many finance and treasury functions still face challenges in identifying which of their processes will yield the best ROI, and then how to accurately map each process step. Citizen developers need to focus on optimising processes rather than deciding what to automate. Only by picking the right automation platform will it be possible to fully empower citizen developers to create and customise existing software.

Platform selection therefore requires attention to these four key factors:

  1. A platform should have integrated process discovery capabilities. These use bots to identify the workflows that would benefit most from automation.
  2. Finance functions can be plagued by legacy systems. This is why it is important to look for an RPA solution that integrates with existing systems to avoid disrupting day-to-day operations.
  3. To further overcome infrastructure as a barrier, cloud-based automation solutions should be considered as a means of offering frictionless implementation.
  4. RPA platform flexibility is needed to make automation work for everyone. While unattended automation can take over manual and repetitive tasks, attended automation can empower finance teams by guiding them through processes, and augmenting rather than replacing the workforce.