How A Modern 'Citizen Developer' Platform Can Help Innovation & Governance Happily Coexist

Today, low-code app development platforms let non-workers to easily build innovative, new apps. But many in IT worry about a loss of control and governance. Bonitasoft CEO Miguel Valdes Faura shows IDN the way to well-governed ‘citizen developer’ apps.

Tags: apps, automation, Bonitasoft, BPM, citizen development, governance, low-code smart processes,

Miguel Valdes Faura, Bonitasoft
Miguel Valdes Faura
chief executive

"Innovation [with low-code platforms] is stifled when results are rejected or sent back to the drawing board because governance issues were ignored - or worse, unknown."

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Even as many modernization projects begin with great enthusiasm, they can falter as they run into corporate needs for strong governance.


In this post I’ll talk about how smart automation is being coupled with a modern business management approach to allow “citizen developer” teams to deliver innovative solutions that can also be well-governed.


In recent years, low-code platforms have created a bit of a good news / not-so-good news situation for many companies.


The good news is low code 'citizen developer' platforms have opened a new era of digital transformation and business innovation. A wide range of less-technical employees can now create a wide range of useful and innovative applications all on their own  – without any help from developers or IT.


The not-so-good news is that with this unsupervised empowerment, there are more opportunities for these new apps to inadvertently fly “under the radar” of some aspects of corporate governance.


To be candid, many simple, strictly-internal apps (of the type that can be done with no IT expertise involved) may really never pose governance issues.


But there are many categories of ‘citizen developer’ apps where lack of visibility and governance becomes an issue. Some examples of these apps include:

  • When apps become more central to the business,
  • When they touch customers and other external users
  • When they need to be high performance and highly available 

So, let’s answer the question: In a mixed business-IT team, how can governance and innovation co-exist?

Governance is Constraining

By design, governance is constraining. When we step back and look at the big picture, we can see two types of constraints that can be imposed on business applications:

  • Constraints imposed by policies, internal standards set by the company, and external regulations
  • Constraints imposed by security and information systems

A project team with both business and technical members brings together both the business perspective and technical expertise on the project, and the unique governance aspects from two points of view.

Business/strategic management brings awareness and understanding of:


How strategic direction relates to the project at hand
Business intelligence and other measurements (KPIs) needed
Corporate policies
Legal issues
External regulations imposed on the company and its processes
Audit requirements


The information technology team brings understanding of:


Security issues and protection restrictions
Overall process standardization across the company
Systems architecture and a view of the entire technical stack
Company-sanctioned frameworks and tools for internal standardization

With well-defined guardrails, and an effective mechanism for citizen developers to work side-by-side with the technical experts in digital process automation teams, the creativity and innovation of the full automation project team is actually improved, not restricted.

Digital Process Automation Underlies Smart Automation

A digital automation platform should give the entire team appropriate tools to work directly together on automation projects. The team that works well together, innovates together.


Specifically, an automation platform should offer low-code capability for team members on the “citizen developer” spectrum, coupled with the capability to permit coding for the “professional developer” spectrum.


Low code for the citizen developers on the business side means they can work on business-critical parts of the project, such as the workflow model, the business data definition, the user interfaces, and so on, without the need for direction intervention by the technical team.


Coding capability for the development team lets them code on the platform directly (to integrate needed parts of the corporate information systems through APIs, for example), or work externally using their preferred development tools and contribute the results directly into the project, and to create customized, reusable elements that can be passed to the non-technical developers.


If the platform also includes low-code tools specifically for developers, like frameworks and templates, that’s even smarter. Developers can use those, plus any visual programming capabilities intended for citizen developers (or by users without development skills) if they wish, so they have a full array of tools at their disposal!


A smart automation platform extends into DevOps too, because an agile, high performing automation team is going to iterate, improve, and deliver continuously. A good digital automation platform can scale, and support high availability and high performance in deployment across all the business applications it supports.

Modern Business Management Underlies Smart Teamwork

It’s easy to say that a development team with business and IT contributors should be well integrated, with a high level of trust and good communication. But what can be done to actually help ensure that good collaboration takes place, that trust is established, so communication about automation decisions and governance supports innovation?


Where we have seen the most success with process automation is in companies that establish a “Center of Excellence” for their automation projects. A Center of Excellence (CoE) includes key business and IT representation and responsibilities at multiple levels, from C-Suite to project leaders, and fosters collaboration by its nature.


A healthy CoE can help IT keep its eyes on what and how automation is being integrated into business work through BPM, RPA, AI, and other implementations at various levels; it can circumvent the need for managers to ask for help or the need for IT constantly to assert its authority whether invited or not. And in the best case, corporate and project governance is “baked in” from the beginning of every project.


Establishing the rules and policies of corporate and project governance is a mutual responsibility, as is the implementation of “corporate guardrails” via technology in automation projects of all sizes. Of course good project leaders know better than to not pay attention, wait for someone to ask, or to leave good teamwork to chance - but as with all best practices, stating them explicitly is a good way to center them for better action.


The creativity and innovation of the full automation project team is improved, not restricted.


We have been seeing for some time now the arrival of “digital natives” in the workplace. They are unafraid of technology and getting their hands on it. Smart, comprehensive digital automation tools are ready for them, and they are ready to take on those key roles on the automation team to offer both innovation and corporate governance, much as IT has always been able to juggle both innovation and security, standardization, and architectural guidance.


Innovation is stifled when results are rejected or sent back to the drawing board because governance issues were ignored - or worse, unknown. Being unaware - that’s where the traps are. But when governance is baked in from the start, innovation is designed and delivered ready for action.


Miguel Valdes Faura is Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Bonitasoft. He leads the company’s mission: to bring powerful, affordable, open digital business automation to organizations and projects of all sizes.  Bonitasoft’s BPM-process-based application platform lets companies create customized automated business applications. The company also hosts an open source community with 130,000+ members.