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The citizen developer has arrived

The combination of social media and smartphones has led to an astronomical rise in citizen journalism. People see something happen, whip out their phones, record it, post it on Twitter, and before you know it, the video is on the six o’clock news.

The concept of regular citizens using mobile technology to take up a profession’s mantle applies to other fields as well, such as enterprise application development. That’s right: IT workers without coding skills, and even employees with little to no technical expertise, can use low- or no-code rapid mobile app development (RMAD) platforms to build apps themselves. RMADs are object-oriented, web-based tools designed to make it faster and easier to build mobile apps.

Citizen mobile app development — as Jason Wong, principal research analyst at Gartner, called it in an interview with the Modern Mobility e-zine — is more important than ever, because developers are in extremely high demand. So many companies need mobile apps, and there just aren’t that many qualified developers out there to build them from scratch. As a result, it’s expensive to hire a mobile app developer with enterprise experience who knows a variety of coding languages. Many smaller companies with limited budgets just can’t afford it.

That’s why RMADs are so valuable. A citizen developer can at least get a foundation for an app in place before a qualified developer performs all the technical steps, such as integrating the app with back-end infrastructure. But even that is getting easier, thanks to technologies such as mobile backend as a service.

Many of today’s mobile app development platforms (MADPs) offer RMAD capabilities. They come with templates that have the basics of an app — its layout and interface, for example — already in place. They also have preexisting code for advanced features, such as geolocation services, that the person building the app can just drag and drop into place.

So if a company needs a simple data entry app, a citizen developer can quickly throw something together that allows mobile users to get their jobs done. In addition, MADPs let developers, IT pros and users build apps that function across multiple operating systems, so whoever creates an app only has to do so once.

Apps built with RMADs cannot replace the quality and customization of those fully developed in-house, and they don’t always work great for more complex processes. But they can make users more productive by simply mobilizing specific business processes. Just as a random person with an iPhone could never replace a trained news cameraman, a citizen developer using an RMAD cannot stand in for a top-flight developer. But they can help fill in the gaps.