Request demo

Three ways to boost the success of your citizen-led automation program

By the ProEdge team | Published: January 4, 2023 | Read time: 10 minutes

Kevin Kroen, PwC Principal and PwC’s Intelligent Automation and Digital Upskilling Leader, recently hosted a webinar with Brandon Nott, Senior Vice President of Product at UiPath, and Maureen Fleming, IDC’s Program Vice President of Intelligent Process Automation research. They discussed recent IDC survey results that showed how citizen-led automation programs can help improve productivity, revenue and more.

The power of the people working with technology

The past two years have ushered in a 47% uptick in citizen-led automation programs driven by developer scarcity and the need to automate. And the results have been positive: organizations that involve employees in their automation efforts — and those that upskill and reward citizen developers — see higher revenue benefits, reduced expenses and improved work quality. 

PwC and UiPath sponsored the IDC study "Accelerating the Impact of Robotic Process Automation" to focus on organizations that leverage centers of excellence (CoEs) with or without citizen-led automation programs and how upskilling can help scale the benefits of automation across the business. Nearly three-quarters of organizations reported they’ve already adopted a citizen automation program, with another 11% planning to adopt one within a year.

So, who’s seeing the most success? Organizations that combine citizen developer programs and enterprise automation yield significantly more benefits than standalone, top-down automation. A combined approach of a CoE and citizen-led automation program had a 39% higher impact than the CoE-only route.

With statistics like these, one might wonder why there has been some resistance to citizen-led automation. When companies started mentioning automation — and bots entered the vernacular — many workers feared for their jobs, often resisting this technology. The reality is that these tools can help people remain in jobs by automating repetitive and easily replicated tasks, freeing them up for more complex value-added activities. Likewise, building a staff of citizen developers can help reduce IT backlog. Training your most digitally savvy business users to address low-code/no-code automations can enable your technical staff to work on more business-critical challenges.

And your newly minted developers are often more engaged, increasing productivity, morale and job satisfaction. Additionally, collaboration between leadership and individual employees across your organization can help you build a community of skilled learners who solve problems creatively while creating scalable solutions that drive growth. 

Despite all the positives, citizen development can still trigger debate for some. How can you get past negative perceptions and begin reaping the rewards of effective citizen-led automation?

  1. Understand the key forces reshaping citizen developer programs 

  2. Give your people time to use what they’ve learned and to create automations

  3. Find your automation champions

1. Understanding the key forces reshaping citizen developer programs 

Citizen-led development hits at the core of the fundamental relationship between IT and its end users — and the model in which technology has been built over the past 20 to 30 years in the modern enterprise. Three areas have helped reshape perceptions (and contradict some misconceptions) about citizen-led development.

  • The workforce is more tech-literate today Business professionals (or users) have a fearlessness now when it comes to technology. They aren’t intimidated by it, they’re well-versed in a way they weren’t in the past and they’re willing to get trained. Workers want to reskill: 77% of workers are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain.

  • Citizen developers now have more programming experience  In the early days of citizen development, there were many challenges. Various bits of code and unchecked Excel macros ran rampant. With no audit trail or source code, IT had no idea where the code came from or who wrote it and no way — or time — to clean it up or fix it. Today’s developers are more well-versed in programming and more disciplined in their approach. 

  • Easy-to-use platforms now eclipse earlier patchwork programs Companies like PwC and UiPath have created a streamlined, user-friendly platform that can help users become more proficient in their own automation programs. We’ve simplified the scaling process so you can share more easily — and quickly share the automation assets your people build.   

2. Giving your citizen developers time to use what they’ve learned

Your professional IT staff builds technology for a living. Likewise, your professional staff members in other areas have their own responsibilities. If you’re going to teach your non-IT subject matter specialists (SMSs) how to develop automations or create bots, you have to give them the time to actually do this as they balance their other job responsibilities.

In the earlier days of citizen-led development, many programs failed. In many cases, managers simply weren’t giving their people time to develop and use their new skills once they were trained. Aspiring citizen developers might have had the opportunity to do one or two projects, but lacked the support to launch their program. They then had to return to focusing on their day-to-day tasks and eventually forgot what they had learned — and their new-found skills.

For organizations that have embraced citizen-led development, giving citizen developers time to actually integrate their new skills as part of their jobs has been critical to organizational success.

New roles can be created as your citizen developers hone their new skills, including coaching and mentoring roles within your business units. In fact, 36% of the organizations surveyed said that they now have a full-time citizen developer job role. Upskilled employees can leverage their subject matter expertise and new technology skills as they move into new roles or support the larger team as the developer within the business unit.

According to 52% of those surveyed, once they received upskilling, they became full-time citizen developers in their business units. Another 54% moved into IT where they’ve filled in gaps within the IT organization. It’s becoming a common progression where these organizations are starting to look at these citizen automation programs as a rich recruiting tool. They can watch as their people progress into these roles and encourage others to adopt new skills and grow. This is a win for HR, enabling them to shift their recruiting focus from hard-to-fill IT positions to other key areas.

3. Finding your automation champions and building a culture of innovation

Some of your organization’s most successful automation ideas will come from the bottom up, from the business users who are closest to the problems and ideally positioned to identify solutions. This is where automation champions come in. They can crowdsource those ideas and prioritize, pushing them through the CoE to implement automation at scale.

Automation champions spend about a third of their time helping their teammates, working on development activities, coding and performing various duties needed to support their own development as well as that of their business units or functional areas.

As citizen developers themselves, automation champions work part-time on automation projects, collaborate with the CoE team on projects, and coach and support educational activities. They support an organization’s automation efforts, spending an average of 31% of their time on automation projects across a variety of activities:

  • 29% build bots or automations

  • 34% run hackathons or other teaching activities to increase robotic process automation (RPA) adoption

  • 44% mentor or coach to help others automate work

  • 48% use task mining

  • 52% collaborate with the CoE as part of a project team member

  • 61% provide feedback about the feasibility of automating specific tasks and processes

In the extended CoE, one that offers additional services to support the organization’s citizen-led automation efforts, 27% percent report that they provide access to mentors and a support team. IDC found from the survey that sometimes those mentors might be a business unit’s automation champion, or it can be a specific role.

Access to mentorship and hands-on activities was a challenge during the height of the pandemic. IDC found that only 9% of those surveyed reported running hackathons. Virtual office hours are one of the creative ways CoEs are working to better empower, educate and enable their citizen developer ecosystems. However, as businesses continue to reconvene in person, we’re likely to see a resurgence in hackathons, as they’re a popular way to accelerate learning. 

Citizen-led innovation – investing in reskilling and upskilling your workforce

When the people who use custom tech tools to enhance their day-to-day work are also the architects of those tools, the benefits abound. Citizen-led development might just be the solution businesses have been searching for to help address staffing shortages and keep pace with digital transformation. Organizations that haven’t thought about this alternative should consider the roles of employees — not just the enterprise — in using citizen-led automation programs to add breadth, depth and velocity to their RPA programs.

With 72% of automation adopters gaining significant benefit from citizen developer participation, enterprises without citizen developers or without a strong program are at a competitive disadvantage. We should learn how to live with the reality that not only can business users learn how to develop, they already are developing — and they’re driving value. Organizations should learn how to build these programs accurately and effectively.

Building and improving citizen automation programs requires careful planning. A well-featured upskilling and support program for workers to successfully become citizen developers is required. Figure out upskilling, roles and rewards. Without proper consideration for recognition and rewards, a program is at risk of citizen developer turnover.

  • Start with a meaningful pilot. Pilots can help uncover cultural issues, provide a better understanding of techniques to help citizen developers acquire skills and CoE competencies and gauge support among business leaders and managers.

  • Determine where new roles are managed. Mentoring, coaching, task mining and test automation are four areas where the function is managed either in the business or in the CoE depending on choices made in planning or by evolving practices.

  • Develop succession planning for automation life cycles. As citizen developers take on new business roles, responsibility for automations in production needs to turn over to a successor in the business or revert to the CoE.

Automation’s promise is not about replacing people. It’s about using technology to streamline and automate tedious manual work so human specialists have more time to solve business problems. It’s empowering people with tech skills so they can automate data-handling tasks themselves, freeing up time to focus on more creative and valuable work. Employee engagement, productivity and creativity skyrocket — and everybody wins. In fact, many leaders now see automation as a path to growth.

Digital upskilling and learning new skills can enhance roles and empower your people to automate the parts of their jobs they dislike, making their jobs more rewarding overall. Automation can up your company’s digital transformation game. And when people feel empowered to work more innovatively and contribute in meaningful, tangible ways, they’re more likely to stay.

How PwC and UiPath empower the future of work

Organizations around the world are seeking to transform how they operate. PwC and UiPath are helping to lead the way. Digital upskilling is critical to building the workforce of tomorrow, today. ProEdge, a PwC product, is an upskilling and citizen-led innovation platform. The UiPath Business Automation Platform is a component of how we’ve transformed ourselves, allowing us to deliver value and operational efficiencies within our firm — and to our clients.

To learn more, contact us or email our team directly at to start a conversation.

Related resources

Take the first step on a new path toward transforming both your organization and the learning experience of your employees.