Robotic Process Automation

5 Tips for Implementing Citizen Development in Your RPA Program

Guidance and best practices for federal robotic process automation programs looking to operationalize citizen developers

Citizen Developers: What are they?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software is marketed to be low-to-no code with the goal of empowering non-technical employees to develop and deploy automations locally. Citizen developers are federal employees who have been enabled to create and develop RPA applications for individual or business unit consumption with the RPA software. In order to empower citizen development at a federal agency, the agency’s CIO office and RPA teams must collaborate to establish governance to ensure that RPA can be deployed safely, securely, and effectively across the enterprise. Below you will find some tips on how to ensure success for citizen development at your federal agency:

Tip 1: Empower your Employees

Empowering the workforce through marketing and training to become citizen developers will drastically improve the chances an initiative is successful, but this is often easier said than done. Ideal candidates typically share some common characteristics. These individuals should be comfortable with technology, have a deep understanding of business processes and workflows, and have sustained motivation and enthusiasm towards learning the required skills.

Development licenses can be a large expense for an RPA program, so it is critical they are carefully assigned. Individuals may often show initial enthusiasm for citizen development, but utilizing the skill set takes a back seat to other competing priorities. Therefore, it is important for programs to identify individuals with sustained motivation so that licenses are not used inefficiently.

Ideal candidates:

  • Are comfortable with technology.
  • Have a deep understanding of the workflow and business processes.
  • Have sustainable motivation.

Tip 2: Establish Effective Governance

A major concern with citizen development is governance and automation security. Organizations can ensure all governance and security best practices are followed by clearly communicating standardized protocols and procedures for automation development. Extensive code-review processes and the utilization of separate environments ensures security is not sacrificed, while still realizing the benefits of having citizen developers.

We recommend:

  • A centralized code repository to facilitate code review and disaster recovery.
  • Role-based access controls (RBAC) to mitigate the risk associated with automations in accessing sensitive data.
  • Separate environments for code development, testing, and production.

Tip 3: Leverage Existing Relationships and Experiences

RPA is a low- to no-code software, making it very easy for individuals to build, deploy, and manage automations. Many employees within an organization already possess the required skills to develop automations. Organizations can encourage technologically savvy employees to collaborate with trained developers, drastically reducing training time and costs. Similarly, potential citizen developers can connect with chief information officer (CIO) shops and information technology (IT) departments to quickly understand the required security protocols and best practices in developing automations.

Be sure to:

  • Encourage inter-organizational collaboration to leverage existing expertise from other functional areas.
  • Connect with CIO shops and IT departments to decrease time to market.
  • Minimize training costs and increase efficiency.

Tip 4: Establish Leadership Buy-in and Support

The most successful cross-agency initiatives are often organized and managed from the top-down, rather than the bottom-up. Establishing leadership buy-in early on in the initiative facilitates rapid implementation of citizen developers in an organization. In addition, leadership support of a citizen developer initiative will help secure training funds for employee upskilling.

Successful initiatives:

  • Drive initiative from the top-down, rather than bottom up, to achieve faster results.
  • Create consistent messaging and communications to ensure progress is not hindered by changing roles or responsibilities.
  • Add clarity to the initiative by establishing organization-wide common ground.

Tip 5: Include Qualitative Benefits in Return on Investment

When evaluating an investment opportunity, it is common practice to simply evaluate the quantitative aspects of return on investment. However, implementing citizen developers within an organization also provides many qualitative benefits that should be considered. For example, training more employees in developing automations helps improve the baseline understanding of RPA and can increase the rate of adoption across the agency. Training also aids in opportunity identification, as employees who work with the business processes at the ground level are able to identify future candidates for automation.

Include benefits that:

  • Consider the improvement in automation opportunity identification. 
  • Consider the opportunity cost of using a different automation technology to migrate data between outdated legacy systems,additional capabilities, decreased error rates, improved quality, etc.
  • Weigh the value of a long-term cultural transformation by ingraining new automation skill sets in employees with training and an open space for them to learn and get used to the program.
  • Make government processes faster to improve services to citizens. 
  • Helps federal employees do their jobs better.

Bonus Tip 

Interested in learning more about using citizen developers? Check out these video shorts and be sure to join the Federal RPA Community of Practice.