Empowering the Citizen Developer, Since 1996

By Nigel Cheshire

"Citizen Developer." "Low Code." "NOSQL." These are terms that are relatively new, even though the concepts behind them are pretty familiar to those of us who've been around the IBM/Lotus Notes/Domino world for a while. It's just that we would likely think of them as "Power User", "Rapid Application Development" and "Non-relational". Maybe that's an indication of how far ahead of its time Lotus Notes was back in 1989.

Now, with Domino 10 just a few weeks away and excitement building about what HCL and IBM are planning for the platform, there is talk about "engaging the citizen developer" as an upcoming feature for Notes/Domino 11.

But the success of Lotus Notes back in the mid-90s was in large measure thanks to the fact that your average user could create their own applications pretty easily. So here at Teamstudio, we like to think we've been engaging and empowering the citizen developer, since 1996. Our suite of development tools have always been targeted to Notes developers, who in many cases haven't come from a deeply technical software engineering background.

As you can imagine, we're interested to find out what HCL is planning to deliver next year. No word from them on that yet (afaik), but it did make me think of an aspect of "citizen development" that we started talking about years ago, but that's only just garnering more attention now. It's the dreaded "G" word: governance.

Back in 2008, our then-head of R&D Craig Schumann authored a book titled "Just Enough Governance for Notes". The book encapsulated our many years of experience of dealing with a well-known issue in the Notes world: how does an IT group manage an environment where many applications have been built by power users (aka citizen developers) in the business? Workgroup apps have a habit of springing up all over the place, oftentimes unbeknownst to the IT group. And that, in large part, is why many organizations have a hard time moving away from the Notes/Domino platform.  Once they start digging, many organizations are surprised to find exactly how many apps they have, and who is using them.

Back in 2008, the idea of developing governance rules to apply to the citizen developer was pretty radical; let's just say that the book didn't exactly fly off the shelves. But with the recent advent of more mainstream low code/no code tools, this has become a more common issue and the Gartners and Forresters of the world are starting to opine about it. There's even a term for the mess that can ensue when you have too many citizen developers without enough IT oversight: shadow IT.

It's a tough challenge. You want to balance the benefits of allowing users to create their own applications with the potential chaos of having apps and data all over the place with no IT knowledge or approval.

You're probably familiar with the famous quote by George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If, as many of us hope, HCL and IBM are successful in their efforts to turn around the fortunes of the Notes/Domino platform, I also hope that we will remember the lessons we learned from our experiences in the heady days of the mid 90s. And that means not only do we want to empower citizen developers, we also want to help IT groups to do the same, while keeping track of the application environment.

If you think you might have more applications already than you know about, or you just want to get a better handle on what's out there, then Teamstudio Adviser is a great place to start. It'll show you all your Notes/Domino applications, who is using them and how much. It can be a great first step toward introducing some control into an environment that might seem a bit chaotic.