How speed cameras turned me into a citizen developer

Citizen developer is a popular term at the moment, particularly within the Microsoft community, with the rise of the Power Platform. Part of the appeal of low code/no code application development platforms is that you don’t always need a developer to build some functionality that can deliver value to your organisation.

Reflecting on my career to date, I was a Citizen developer, I just didn’t know it, and the term probably didn’t exist in 2003. My first job out of university was a temp job for Staffordshire Police working in their Traffic Process Office. Armed with a Business Degree, I had key responsibilities such as filing, making the tea, and processing…… ahem….. Speed camera fines (don’t hate me!)

First, a bit of insight into the process here (or at least the process as it existed in 2003!). If you speed past a speed camera, you get sent a notice of intended prosecution. If you ignore this and dont pay your fine, eventually you will get a summons to appear in court. If you ignore this, you eventually get a visit from a police officer to “personally serve” the court summons to you, so that the police can evidence that the summons was served.

A few weeks in role and I was perplexed that the process of tracking the “personal service” of court summonses was largely paper-based. So I built my first business application! My go to tool of choice… Excel… of course. Over the course of a few days I built a system in excel, using formulas, and a few macros, to record service attempts, report upon success rate and to generate an accompanying letter for the officer to take with them. It was basic, but it automated part of the process, allowed information to be captured in a structured way and reduced overall processing time.

I was a Citizen Developer…. Or as I would have been known back then…… “that young lad that knows about computers!”

Reflecting on that experience, from where we stand today (from an IT perspective) is interesting and exciting. Put in that same position today, I could build a solution to meet those exact requirements, except this time I would be using the Power Platform rather than Excel! And here is why that is exciting.

  • The time to build it would be reduced
  • More than one user could use the system at a time(this wasn’t much of an issue in 2003 as I was pretty much a 1 person department)
  • I could push the app out to users across my organisation with a couple of clicks, and ensure they are on the latest version.
  • The data would be in a secure, scalable database (the common data service) , rather than in a password protected excel sheet on the hard disc of PC.
  • I could have provided the Police Officer with an App on his phone to provide real-time updates of when delivery attempts had been made.
  • I would have version 1 of a solution that could be taken on by central IT and further enhanced with additional functionality and automation.

In my opinion, there has never been a better time to be “that young(or old!) person that knows about computers”. With tools like the Power Platform, if you see an opportunity to improve a process, then take it! Build version 1 of that app, or even just a prototype. Show the value that it, and you, can bring to your organisation.

And if you are an IT director concerned with the prospect of multiple “outside IT” apps popping up left right and centre, then there are things you can do to provide governance while encouraging innovation. Blog post on this subject coming soon!

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