• May 22, 2024

The notion of non-technical employees creating business applications outside the purview and control of IT can be very uncomfortable for CIOs. But, as more organizations implement low- and no-code RPA software as part of digital transformation efforts, wringing every efficiency they can find out of their technology investments, “citizen developers” are playing increasingly important roles.

IT departments are coming around to the idea that business line staff, who are closer to the problems trying to be solved and sometimes understand better how the interaction of people and technology can solve those problems, must be free to help develop applications to implement automation strategies.

In some cases, they’ve discovered that non-IT staff are the key to scaling technology that has run into hurdles when IT departments try to scale their use.

In fact, one recent study says more organizations are not only accepting citizen development of technology assets, but actively encouraging it. Over just the course of six months, researchers found that the share of companies that, as a policy, disallow citizen development, fell from more than a third to less than a quarter. More organizations see it as an important step toward scalability.

Democratizing Bureaucracy

In the public sector, where budget shortfalls ebb and flow with tax receipts and resources can be even more constrained than in private firms, IT departments are becoming even more reliant on non-technical employees to push for modernization and look for ways to become more efficient.

Citizen developers in local, state and federal agencies are increasingly encouraged and enabled to create and develop RPA applications for individual or business unit consumption with RPA software. But, to truly empower citizen development within a government agency, that agency’s CIO office, RPA team and its business lines must collaborate to establish governance ensuring that RPA can be deployed safely, securely, and effectively across the enterprise. 

RPA in the public sector is on the vanguard of democratizing access to technology and empowering a broader set of non-IT experts to help create technology assets that drive organizations forward and enable human capital to focus on work that is of more value to the citizens they ultimately work for.

One of the most important facets of citizen development is fostering an environment that enables radical transformation. UiPath is working with state and federal government agencies across the country to give organizations the tools they need to create environments like that.

Enabling Organizational Change in the Public Sector

Jonathan Ozovek is chief operating officer for the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA), the executive department responsible for providing information technology services to other Virginia state agencies. VITA recently launched the first public sector, end-to-end RPA service offering with UiPath as its technology partner. To be able to achieve that scale, Ozovek notes that a culture change was necessary.

“Technology in the public sector has traditionally been focused on utility technology: servers, laptops, your voice & data network, etc.,” Ozovek says. “These types of technologies are more commodities. My experience is that there is a perception of technology that it’s more of a cost center than an enabler of strategic and business outcomes. We are aiming to change that.”

Ozovek is helping guide VITA through a four-phase plan that will transform the services it offers Virginia state agencies in much the same way citizen developers are transforming the way those agencies are consuming IT services. Even though VITA has an RPA Center of Excellence and a team of certified developers responsible for coding, testing, deployment, stabilization and production, Ozovek says citizen development is more about changing the perception of IT within an organization than the actual development of bots.

“When you’re doing a tech transformation, it’s less about the underlying technology than it is about organizational change and management,” he explains. “In the public sector, what kind of internal culture and organizational inertia do you have? Most times IT is viewed through a cultural lens not as a business facilitator on the value chain to achieve an outcome, but as a cost center.”

Ozovek says to change that perception, to democratize technology, IT must communicate the value proposition of its technology and resources in language the businesspeople understand.

“You can’t use tech speak and coding protocols,” he explains. “Talk in dollars and cents, talk in productivity, talk in enhanced work design and enhanced citizen experience. Ultimately you will drive toward a re-shift of perception that will enable you to work with business units more cooperatively and be viewed as a strategic investment in the future of the business.”

Citizen Developers Optimizing Scarce Resources

For the Oklahoma Department of Health Services, citizen development is about tapping the abilities of smart, motivated people in the face of mounting resource shortfalls.

Funding for state government in Oklahoma is sensitive to and reliant on the price of oil. If oil becomes cheaper, it massively affects the amount of revenue the state is able to collect. A recent dip in oil prices forced the state to pare staff through voluntary buyouts, leaving state agencies understaffed.

Tara Williams, the projects and performance officer for the Health Services Department, decided to explore automation as a way to take administrative tasks away from her staff of process engineers and return them to working with clients to maintain a high level of customer experience.

Unfortunately, staff reductions had also affected the state’s IT department as well, leaving them short of development resources.

“My team is composed of process engineers and analysts. They are not developers,” Williams states. “When a request comes in they typically look at the process end-to-end, look at potential efficiencies and work with the requestor on that. We will also get feedback from the user level. What they have not typically done is development work.”

But, partnering with UiPath has enabled Williams’ team of process engineers to take advantage of training resources to learn the coding necessary to develop the bots that, once implemented, allow them to focus on their clients.

For both Williams and Ozovek, citizen development has moved IT and the value it provides closer to the end user and aligned IT and the technology it employs closer to the business units generating that value.

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