Shadow IT No More? Surprising Results from Recent Low-Code Adoption Survey

As the low-code/no-code movement continues to explode, skeptics look askance at the trend and wonder if we’ve been down this road before.

After all, we’ve seen plenty of ‘user productivity’ tools over the years that provided value in their day, but also led to a number of challenges as well.

Not to name any names, but we like to call this the ‘Microsoft Access’ problem. (Plenty of other tools fit the bill as well, but Access is perhaps the best known).

Frustrated with the responsiveness of their IT departments, droves of business users built quick-and-dirty apps on Access, running them under their desks — unmanaged, ungoverned, and of questionable quality.

And thus, Shadow IT was born.

Today, we’ve recast such users as ‘citizen developers,’ and we’ve given many of them access to increasingly powerful, easy to use low-code/no-code platforms.

The million-dollar question: have we turned a page in end-user productivity, or is this whole story just shadow IT all over again?

One way to find out. Survey organizations who are traveling down this road and see what they have to say.

The Rise of the Empowered Citizen Developer

Kintone partnered with Unisphere Research to survey over 300 business and IT leaders from organizations of all sizes across many industries. The goal: examine the progress of citizen developers within today’s enterprises.

According to this survey, The Rise of the Citizen Developer, most organizations in the survey report that citizen developers create some or all of their applications outside of the IT organization. Data analytics apps top the list of such applications, with front office (marketing, sales, and customer service) representing the largest number of applications in aggregate.

However, low-code/no-code was only one part of this trend. In fact, a majority of these citizen developers turn to open source software.

Spreadsheets still account for a large portion of such development, while only about a fifth of surveyed organizations leverage business-enabled low-code platforms to create such applications.

While most citizen developers reported that a central motivation for citizen development was the lack of responsiveness of IT, they didn’t indicate the disconnect with the IT organization that we’ve come to call shadow IT.

In fact, only about one sixth of such organizations actively discourage such activity. At least 84 percent of respondents actually want to see their organizations do more to encourage and support their citizen developers — the most surprising result of the survey.

Such encouragement, however, is clearly an area that needs improvement. Half of organizations surveyed provide no encouragement or skills development for citizen developers. Almost half reported that training was necessary to support and encourage such professionals, but providing an easy-to-use, low-code platform was even more important.

Furthermore, citizen developers actually appreciate IT oversight, especially when it comes to challenges like security and mobile app development. In fact, two-thirds of surveyed organizations reported that IT provides such necessary oversight for mobile app development.

There was a disconnect, however, between IT and business personnel regarding the level of concern over security and governance. “IT managers are far more likely to be concerned with many of the controls and safeguards that go with application development than non-IT managers,” writes report author Joe McKendrick, Research Analyst at Unisphere Research.

As organizations resolve these concerns, therefore, citizen developers will continue to drive value for their organizations, and the ones that get the most support will predictably be the most successful.

Among other benefits, innovation hands in the balance. “Citizen developers see the technology around them as a way to boost the productivity of their jobs, as cited by one-third,” McKendrick continues. “This opens the door to innovation, and new ways of accomplishing goals, which may have not been apparent to IT managers.”

The Intellyx Take

The fundamental causes of shadow IT issues are the communication and productivity disconnects that result from overly siloed organizations. Regardless of improvements in technology, if organizations are unable to break down such silos, then shadow IT challenges will persist.

The good news: based upon the results of this survey, organizations are well on their way to achieving the collaboration benefits that relaxed organizational silos promise. True, IT departments still exist, but organizations are separating the core responsibilities of the IT organization from the day-to-day roles of the people within it.

This trend is evident in how the IT organization supports citizen developers in those organizations that actively promote citizen development. IT retains three core responsibilities: security, governance, and maintaining access to systems of record.

What’s changed, however, is how IT handles these responsibilities. Instead of acting as an ‘ivory tower,’ dispensing limited capabilities while maintaining a tight fist of control, modern IT organizations are becoming ‘centers of empowerment,’ working to facilitate citizen development (as well as other technology-empowered efforts), without serving as the gatekeeper that slows everything down.

The survey clearly shows that encouraging citizen development is a positive force for each organization, while discouraging it will likely be counterproductive. Such encouragement, moreover, must be more than mere words.

Organizations that actively support citizen development with training, low-code/no-code technology, and the right kind of IT support are the ones that will be more agile, innovative, and better able to succeed with their digital transformation efforts.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Kintone is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, none of the other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper.

Originally published at



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