Microsoft PowerApps is changing the dynamics of what it means to be a Citizen Developer. The PowerApps platform allows for the creation of mobile apps (tablet, phone, or otherwise) in a web-based user interface with minimal coding needed. Some operations will require several lines of formulas by for the most part though, Microsoft is being honest when they tell you this platform is designed to create mobile applications without the need for in-depth coding.
Given the allure and ease of developing a Power App, a challenge managers will face is, “Who should I hire to build PowerApps or do I even need to hire a developer?” This is a challenge we faced internally.
Microsoft states that PowerApps can be built by citizen developers. Who is a citizen developer?
“A citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. In the past, end-user application development has typically been limited to single-user or workgroup solutions built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. However, today, end users can build departmental, enterprise and even public applications using shared services, fourth-generation language (4GL)-style development platforms and cloud computing services. (Gartner, 2018)”
Citizen developers are employees who possess some technical skill but don’t work in a formal developer role. They do not need to have programming experience. To some extent they will need to be engineer-minded, but again formal experience will not be necessary. Since the PowerApps interface is designed to model Microsoft Excel, any employee who excels at Excel is a natural fit. Employees with musical backgrounds are also often strong candidates as is anyone who likes to tinker, dismantle and rebuild, or otherwise design and create.
Can a traditional developer be a citizen developer? No, I don’t think so. At least not for any length of time. The PowerApps platform really isn’t designed for the type of control and customization that a traditional developer looks for. Concurrency? Polymorphism? Dynamically or Programmatically generated content? None of that is available (It’s ok if you just went, “huh?”). My point being that someone who understood those words is not going to find PowerApps fulfilling as a long-term role.
What will you need to bring PowerApps into your organization? You will need a) an administrator, b) an expert, and c) a team of interested citizen developers with some to no formal programming experience.
The administrator should come from I.T. That person will need to be technical and will need to understand role assignment and environment management. Unless you are a very small and very new organization, that employee or group already exists. Leverage them.
For your ‘expert’ there are two options:
- Use an existing traditional developer, have the developer learn PowerApps first. Give the developer a couple of weeks to familiarize and build a few playground apps. Note that I’m using “developer” loosely. Anyone with formal programming experience can be used here.
- Find a PowerApps consultant a penchant for teaching or engage a Microsoft partner with good mobility skills, such as Mobile Mentor ;).
Your expert will need to provide initial training to your team and be there for the tougher challenges as your citizen developers climb up the learning curve. For someone with no programming background at all, expect it to take about four weeks for them to become truly self-sufficient. For someone who is an Excel whiz, two to three days should be enough.
Your team of interested citizen developers can be from any functional area or can be externally hired. Internally, ask around to find employees who are interested in app development and who are good with Excel. Secondly, look for those with a background in engineering, math, computers, or music.
When hiring externally look for the same thing. Don’t feel the need to grab someone with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. You are going to bore that person to death and will end up looking for another employee again shortly.
Once your team is created, have your expert give them a two-day boot camp and get them off to the races. Make sure your expert is available to answer questions for a couple of weeks afterwards until your team gets up to speed and becomes self-sufficient. Once they do your citizen developers will be able to digitize your workflows in no time.
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