The Automation Center of Excellence and Citizen Developers – Not the Wild, Wild West!


As automation initiatives continue to mature, more and more people want to get in on the action. Not just members of the organization’s Automation Center of Excellence (CoE) – but also individuals on the ground who perform various work tasks day in and day out. They are wanting to learn more about automation and how they can build automations themselves. Empowering citizen developers not only grows the automation workforce – it also creates automation evangelists across the company.

Let’s start with the concept of citizen developers. Citizen developers can be thought of as human resources who are performing an additive technical function outside their primary role or organization as part of an enterprise initiative or program. In most cases, citizen developers are resources who sit outside the Automation CoE team but use the Automation CoE tools, including the automation platform, which may consistent of one or more automation tools. In other words, they are virtual members of the Automation CoE and may be assigned to automation initiatives either full time or part time. Of course, the amount of time citizen developers allocate to automation will directly impact their throughput.  

Because citizen developers sit outside the Automation CoE, they can face challenges with communication and standards. Here are three tips for maximizing the use of citizen developers without creating the wild, wild west in your organization:

  1. Thoughtfully plan training and enablement of your citizen developers. It is of limited value if citizen developers develop automations that are inefficient or don’t follow established standards. Enablement of these resources is key to maximizing the value they can bring to the automation program. Taking a virtual course or reviewing a series of slides is not going to bring about the desired result. Use training supported by hands-on exercises and assign a mentor who is an experienced automation developer to accelerate time to value for citizen developers.
  2. Set goals and align expectations for your citizen developers. If your citizen developers are not full time, consider what is appropriate so the automations they build are part of the CoE roadmap for the year. The rule of thumb we use is that a single, full-time automation developer can typically build four to six automations per year depending on scope, technology and so on. A more complex automation that uses robotic process automation (RPA) and other cognitive technologies will likely take longer than an RPA-only automation. If a citizen developer is going to be allocated 25% of the time (e.g., 10 hours per week), that may result in them building only one to two automations per year, depending on the size, scope and complexity of the automation.
  3. Be prepared with automation standards and governance. What are the criteria for developing an automation? Can a citizen developer build whatever they want since they don’t formally report into the CoE? Consider not only entry criteria to be approved for build, but standards for your builds; write down your learnings and “do’s and don’ts.” Define a formalized framework for automations so all your automations look and feel the same regardless of the automation builder or developer. Communicate your templates for definition, design, runbooks and so on. Plan for code reviews and be ready to communicate expectations. It can be scary to think about an additional 10, 20 or 30 automation developers who are not part of the CoE. The key is in establishing the appropriate checkpoints and defining standards, milestones and tollgates to ensure governance. Without these types of checks and balances, citizen developers may flounder or, worse, negatively impact the larger automation program.

If you are just starting with the concept of citizen developers, start small. Choose individuals who show an aptitude for automation and associated concepts. Once identified, assign discrete tasks that can build up developer confidence but also build confidence within the CoE that the citizen developer model can be effective. The concept of citizen developers should be embraced but needs to be thoughtfully planned so the work they do helps accelerate the automation program as a whole and the realization of benefits. 

ISG helps enterprises leverage intelligent automation, build an effective CoE (with or without citizen developers) and manage the organizational change to make an automation initiative successful. Contact us to find out how we can help you. 

About the author

Tracy Lipasek is an experienced advisor with more than 25 years of experience in Information Technology, process automation, transformation, leadership and software development. Her experience includes work for EDS and HP. Currently, she is a partner within ISG Automation responsible for global delivery of Intelligent Automation services.