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How to Navigate Citizen Development & Manage the Power Platform

In today’s episode of #O365 Hours, we’re joined by Office Apps & Services MVP Rene Modery to discuss how citizen development has changed over the years and some general tips for Power Platform governance. Watch our discussion below or read the full transcript at your convenience!

Guest: Rene Modery, APAC Collabtoration & Productivity Tools Project Manager for WPP  (visit his website here)

Questions Covered:

  • Within the SharePoint community which you and I have been a part of for many years, we’ve seen a huge transformation in the role of the citizen developer from a “shadow” role of sorts into a supported function within the enterprise. Generally speaking, what is the state of the citizen developer within the modern workplace, and how is the Power Platform changing the way organizations look at this role?
  • The topic of governance around the Power Platform is becoming more and more important. What has been your own personal experience, within your company or in working with customers, around governance best practices?


Christian Buckley: Hello and welcome to another Office 365 Hours podcast. My name is Christian Buckley, and I’m the Microsoft Go-To-Market Director at AvePoint and a Microsoft MVP and Regional Director. And I’m joined today by Rene Modery, a fellow Microsoft MVP and the APAC Collaboration and Productivity Tools Project Manager for WPP based in Singapore. Good morning, Renee.

Rene Modery: Hi, good evening, Christian. Good to see you again.

CB: Today we’re discussing the topic of citizen development and the Power Platform. I’m excited to dig in and learn from some of your experiences in this space; it’s a huge topic! So, within the SharePoint community (which you and I have both been a part of for many, many years now) we’ve seen a huge transformation in the role of what is called a citizen developer; I would even call it kind of a shadow role. It’s come from kind of that shadowy space into more of a supported function within the enterprise. What’s the state of the citizen developer within the modern workplace and how is the Power Platform really changing the way organizations look at this role?

RM: I mean, I think it’s looking really good right now or where citizen developers are right now, or what’s possible for them as well as how Microsoft generally actually encourages companies to consider supporting their internal citizen developers. I mean, citizen, citizen developers, maybe we should just quickly define it for anyone who does know what is, what they are, the people within the business who are actually trying to solve business problems with technology by themselves. And ideally obviously then with some officially support technology. So really you’ve got a problem, you know, oh, it can be done in a certain way if you have the right technology. And obviously if that kind of technology is given to you then so that you can take care of it yourself, that would be a great thing. Because again, basically the business people are the ones who are closest to the business processes, who are closest to those problems. They understand what exactly is going wrong, how things should work usually. And in an ideal world, they would be able then to take those problems, know how to solve them and do it themselves in a certain way. And yeah, that’s where we are right now, given that Microsoft has improved, enhanced and pushed the Microsoft power platform a lot in recent years, we can see now that’s been a growing demand or growing interest in those citizen developers as well and what they can do or what they should be able to do, etc.

CB: Well, I know that a lot of it, when, when I think of citizen developers, I mean, one of the things, again, coming from the SharePoint side of things, I think of like InfoPath and there’s such a huge number of people that have relied on InfoPath and people love it. They hate it. You know, they, they loved the maturity of where Microsoft has gone with the platform, with the power platform in general and are excited to move away from that. And yet we still see, you know, so much so many connections, somebody solutions that were developed using InfoPath you know, but it’s, it’s much more than just, you know, the old info path and now moving it across to modern systems.

RM: Yeah. I mean, when you look at basically what was available, privacy, you mentioned InfoPass, there was SharePoint designer where you could develop your workflows. Those were basically tools that were potentially available and people started using them. They build a solution center. Yeah, as you mentioned around for a long time, I know in my own company, we still have some solutions, some based on InfoPath that ideally we want to get rid of at some point, but they’re just working. They were built a couple of years ago and they fulfill a specific need. They work and where we are right now, basically we’ve got enhanced tool sets. We’ve got more possibilities, but also a better integration between the teams that potentially support those kind of solutions or platforms. And then the citizen developers who would then be able to build something there. So overall I think while some people might still resist it a bit and are concerned about, oh no, what if those people actually build technical solutions, what’s going to happen? It’s going to wreak havoc also because they might be scarred from previous times when people maybe use access databases for things they shouldn’t have for. So I think right now we’re really at a point where you have to yeah, the possibility really work together very closely and do something quite valuable.

CB: Well, it’s funny. And you bring up access too, because I just had a conversation a couple of days ago about you know, whatever happened with access services, y’all run the SharePoint 2010 era. And you know, the, the idea though, of so my background is starting as an analyst and then as a technical project manager, we would always approach problems that we wanted to go to engineering. One wanted to go to bring to it, never just, Hey, we need a solution. It was always after we had gone in and modeled something, we’d either taken a free tool or a lightweight tool that was supported within the organization and gone and tried to get it part way and then explained, here’s what we’re missing here are the gaps. This is what we needed to do. And it was always, you know, a much faster process. It was a more detailed solution that was delivered to us if we brought that the scenario and a mock-up you know solution in place. And that could still be part of the way that your organization works. Like come to us with these pieces, build it out, model of something that is rudimentary, you know, and then work with engineering to create a more, you know enterprise version of that solution.

RM: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Microsoft has been pushing the term fusion development a lot in recent months, I would say. So the idea is then really you still got people building their, for example, their power app where they realize, oh, we’ve got a problem. We want to do something, power apps and maybe power. It can help you with that. But at some point you realize, yeah, you’ve got a very simple version, something that you think, yes, that proves my point that something can be done, but you still need to enhance it in a certain way, maybe because you need to integrate with other internal systems or you need some other fancy API that you need to call or something like that, basically. And that’s where then those fusion development teams come in. So you still have your citizen developers who understand how things should work on the, let’s call it a fondant, for example, the where the regular staff, they use us and interact with it.

RM: But then you might also bring in some additional developers who support them in the background, who then say yes, oh, for your integration, with our specific ERP system or some other legacy system, or so, yeah. We could actually create some rapid there that you can then connect to. And then if got the best of both worlds, you don’t have to have pure development team broken on something non-stop but you can bring both of those teams together then to make sure that then yes. The business side D understand where they want to go. They can help go in that direction, but you also don’t have the it side and who also then supports them accordingly to get to that point where, yeah, we’re not just building some simple proof of concept, but really yeah, a valuable, I don’t want to call it proper solution, not to diminish anything. That’s not provide it, but you know, something a bit enterprisey or more enterprisey in a way. Sure.

CB: Well, I, and that’s, and that’s, I think is valid too. There are, you know, different organizations, different levels of people could be in roles that are non-technical, but in past roles could have had very technical roles. Titles are not as relevant here, but you kind of made me think, are there, are you seeing organizations that are creating a role specifically around this more end-user you know, the lightweight development? I don’t know what, I don’t want to put a name on it, you know, around it, but around the citizen developer type activity, or is it something that’s more just, Hey, anybody that has, you know, the, the gumption, the, the desire to go and create something. Do you see it more of kind of across the board, regardless of, of roles, people getting involved in learning the technology and trying to solve their own technical problems?

RM: I think it’s a bit of both. So very often companies start with well, let’s call it, throwing the technology towards the people. I mean often when you’ve got the office 65 licenses, that means, yes, you’ve got the free version of power automate and power apps available, and then yeah. People start exploring it and potentially then not with a lot of guidance, but defined. There’s a lot of great content out there generally. So the company might not actually tell them, Hey, this is how you should be doing things. And this was what you should consider. Please don’t build any apps that connect directly to an email connector or something like that. Consider all those some potential governance around it. Or so people just get started with things, building things, and then come companies usually react to it. But other companies are you take that more proactive approach and say, yeah, we’ve got something actually that we could use that we think could bring a lot of value to it. And then we actually also make sure that we provide the right well systems, tools, processes, and people in place to support that that growth so that anybody who wants to do something can still do so, but maybe we also then have more dedicated people in there. Those who might’ve been in some kind of a non-technical role before, but now they become a bit more tactical. Just remember there was a term that I heard in recent Gardner podcast but it slipped away again business,

RM: Sorry, I forgot it. You’ve got basically a business person in the business department, but who’s focused on developing. Some, you could say a bit more it solutions, so a bit more like a an enhanced citizen developer. So not someone whose full responsibility is busy. Oh, I’m working marketing, I’ve got my regular marketing activities, but somebody who’s focused on helping the marketing team, for example yeah, develop new solutions that can help them, et cetera.

CB: I mean, I’ve seen that work successfully several times where you have people that have that inclination and they, they go in there. They’re kind of moving along that, that path independently. And, and so, you know, the management team kind of recognizes, Hey, these are people that are kind of going above and beyond and solving these problems. Let’s further help this, help them develop their skills in that area. And then they become even a representative for a department and, you know, with some of those solutions. So, you know, so that’s, that’s one approach for an organization that says, Hey, it’s all right, but we want to kind of keep people within their channels. You know, they want to be focused on what their core job is. But for those that have a desire to kind of grow, there’s a maybe more technical path.

CB: And so we can have them do some training and provide these additional kind of shared services. You know, these skills, these, these solutions back to their department, their team. And so that’s something that’s been really successful, but you brought up a key word here, the G word governance or around this. And I, I hear that more and more around the power platform the topic of governance of how important it is as organizations want to empower people to do is to go in and solve these problems without having to go through centralized it, but wanting to do that with some degree of constraint around it, what that want to make sure that it’s, well-managed that it’s well-governed so in your experience, you know, maybe within your company or with customers, or what are you seeing around kind of governance best practices and how to approach this?

RM: I mean, we’re going through it right now in our own company, actually. So we’re a very large organization. It’s a huge umbrella of companies, actually. So WPP is just one big umbrella of a lot of companies. And we’ve covered a lot of obstacles, five tenants, which are consolidating with gut I think more than a hundred thousand people worldwide across all those companies. So

CB: Just not too far from me. So yeah–

RM: There’s a lot actually happening, but also it means from a, how things are working right now and how things should be working desk tool, that gap. So that’s where we’re trying to figure out how can we govern it in a better way, because for example, within the organization to a small company within WPP that I’m basically assigned to, or that I’m working in within the past one and a half years or so, I’ve been trying to step really something like some standards for how do you use power apps and power automated, or how should you use them? Obviously a one man shop is difficult, but nowadays we’re trying to bring it together with me in Seattle. We trying to establish that kind of overall governance within the company, then to make sure that what is getting done within the organization is getting done the right way, because we can see yet there is a lot of interest, obviously in building solutions.

RM: We can see, yeah, there are thousands of apps and power automate workflows, running people are using them, but often we don’t know what are they actually getting used for. So it’s not really shadow it, but it’s more of a, yeah, there’s this unknown part in a way. We know it’s, it’s in our official platform, but we don’t know what it’s doing. And we don’t want to obviously restrict and we don’t want to control them. You’re not telling people, oh, before you create an app, fill out this form and get approval from free people. And we will know everything about it before we even do something,

CB: The snap reaction to two governances that lock it down. And so what happens when you lock it down like that, as people then they, they want to get their jobs done, they want to go solve the problems. And so then they go around you.

RM: Yeah. They will do it somewhere else. And that’s what we want to avoid. We can see that they’re doing something great and we want to actually support them. So, you know, Hey, there’s something that you’ve done. What is it actually how does it help your team or your department or whichever scope you’re basically looking at and what is it that you’re missing right now? What kind of support would you actually need to do something even better? Or what are they experiences? And when it comes to best practices, I think we’re not really at that stage right now where we can say, yes, this is how, what you should be doing, because we are still seeing it as a journey. Actually. I mean, we know that we want to encourage people to do something, but we also want to tell them, oh, if you do something, try to do it within these certain boundaries first.

RM: And then when you realized, okay you need a bit more than we can talk about how can we bring you to the next step? So it’s a bit of a measured approach, making sure that people do get not discouraged from doing something they’re not getting prevented at all from doing something, but rather they can do. For example something relatively simple at the beginning with some apps and workflows did work, but that potentially then don’t connect to let’s say the outside world as part of some external systems, which we ideally don’t want to see, for example, or the consider. Yeah. Before I build an app, I check again, if it has maybe already an existing app, all those kind of things. So yeah, that’s beautiful.

CB: It is part of any development methodology. There’s that, those, that, that initial kind of discovery that, that where you’re doing an assessment of an index, like an audit of our systems, like, what are we actually doing today? So you’re not trying to halt anything. You’re not stopping people from working, but you’re trying to get an idea of what is actually happening with the organization. Where are their patterns? Where are we doing similar things? Where are we reinventing the wheel? What can we learn? And then, you know, I like the whole concept of the center of excellence. And it always begins with a collaboration effort to assess, let’s pull the things in before we make any decisions. There’s nothing wrong with having a review and approval process for creating new assets and artifacts, but it should begin with a fuller understanding of what’s happening. Is that something that maybe you’ve gone through that activity yet? Are you beyond that stage?

RM: We’re somewhere in there points ago, obviously it’s an ongoing journey. That’s probably never going to be some point where you can say, yes, we are now exactly where we want to be, because you can always improve. But right now we’re at that stage where we’re in the process of putting in the Microsoft center of excellence, starter kits, or a technical solution that can help you with a lot of the governance aspects, really terming. How many apps do you have, who developed them? How many flows do you ever have who developed them, but then also see, Hey, that’s that hap that has been used by a hundred people, for example, recently. So that’s when you can then basically define yes for such an app, you want to find out more so you can ask them the app creator or the owner, and then basically what’s the purpose of that app.

RM: What other systems do you connect to? Did you consider security, all those kind of things end that you obviously want to know in the end and photos kind of things. So that’s what we’re doing right now. And that really helps a lot because we, us as mentioned, we don’t want to prevent people from doing things, but at the same time, you don’t want to ask them too early. What are you doing? Please provide 10 different explanations for something. And that would probably discourage 90% of the people when they can just get started to do something simple at the moment. Some against some powerful example gets large enough in terms of it gets shared with a larger number of people. For example, then we want to know what’s happening actually, Hey, you shared it with again a hundred people. That sounds great. What I doing at four? And can we help you at any fruit of the fit? And the COE starter kit can help you with those kinds of things.

CB: Yeah. That’s exactly where you can have the various stakeholders, security compliance, things that can ask those questions, have that visibility. And then you know, like anything you have to then have a baseline. If you understand, Hey, the intended purpose of this flow is this. And then if you’re is you’re monitoring, if you start to see behavior spikes and usage, things are, it’s something that you can go and investigate. Well, if you never did that audit, if you never did that assessment, if there wasn’t an understanding of its purpose and the behaviors that you should be seeing, you’re never going to know that, Hey, that spike is abnormal or that was complete. We just, we just expanded it. We built it for this department, but just expanded that to the entire company. That’s why you’re seeing this spike in usage. If you’re not having the discussion, you’re not going to understand that difference,

RM: Exactly discussion. That’s what I wanted to bring up. So it’s not really a measure of controlling people. Hey, you need to justify exactly why you’re doing something, but rather we want to have the discussion with you. What are you doing there? And I’m putting you to the next step or those kinds of things. Again, in the end, you can also then start a bit earlier, for example, the starter kit. I just want to bring it up again, allow student, for example, to also establish a community. I mean, establishing community is something that you can, can and should be doing generally, meaning anybody who’s interested can join, but really when somebody creates the first app, they might not know that you have an internal community where people can engage with this auto share experiences, best practices, ask questions, all those kinds of things. If I develop an app right now for the first time, I may not know that there is some place like that where I can talk to like-minded people.

RM: But with the series starter kit, you can then actually say yes, whenever somebody creates the first app or the first workflow, then yeah. Add them automatically to their communities, send them a welcome email with a lot of information, eight grade, you build your first app. It’s awesome. Do you need any help? Yes. People, you can talk to ESL community, here’s some other conditional guidance, et cetera. And this way you can basically get started with supporting people, right from the beginning when they actually start looking at things. So only so that they know, yes, there is some support available. If you need further help, there is a team that can help you. If you wonder, Hey, I want to do something. I’m not quite sure if it’s actually the best place to do it. Also the power platform, maybe there’s a better way. So really making sure that again, those people that want to do something decade encouraged to do something, but they also are able to, and to have that discussion with people from it or whoever else is involved and to make sure that yes you’re not just building bits and pieces here in the end at all silos again, but rather you want the community that works on it together.

CB: Something to be said too about, again, that discovery process making an avail. Like I go in develop a new flow. I kind of I’m part of the community. I share, Hey, this, I created this, this, the, the pieces that I do, you might then find other people and in a company as large as yours, certainly that have created similar assets elsewhere within the organization. And we can learn from each other. And it might be that we can reuse components or at least just best practice out. This is how I got past that issue. And further you along in that development process and potentially look for, you know, mistakes or other situations that you hadn’t considered before. To have another pair of eyes, to look at the work that you’re doing and improve the overall results.

RM: Yeah, absolutely.

CB: It’s one of the benefits of collaboration in general. I think that w you know, look, there are brilliant people that can do things on their own and out there. And but more and more, we see that the quality of the work, and certainly the quantity of work that it can be completed, you know, increases dramatically when we’re working together. And that’s why I’m, I’m a huge advocate for collaboration in general, but this is a great example of where collectively that we could work together and improve the overall solutions that we deliver for our individual roles. I love the concept of the center of excellence, and it’s especially great to come back after leaving an organization and seeing that a community that I helped create or was a part of is still thriving and growing and changing; I love to see that happen.

CB: Well, Renee, I really appreciate your time and for joining today and for sharing some of your experiences on this, this topic. Again, it’s a, I know it’s a rapidly growing and, and evolving area, certainly within the Microsoft ecosystem, but this is bigger than even just the Microsoft ecosystem, this role of a citizen developer you know, crosses technology, stacks, and boundaries. So it’s a, it’s an increasingly important role within the organization. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks so much for participating and thanks everybody for watching this episode of office 365 hours. Of course you can follow where we broadcast these sessions on the first and third, Wednesday of every month. And we’ll be back in a couple of weeks with our next episode. Thanks for watching and thanks again, Renee, for joining us.

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Christian Buckley
Christian Buckley
An Office Apps & Services MVP and Microsoft Regional Director, Christian Buckley is an internationally recognized author and speaker and runs the community-focused CollabTalk blog, podcast, and tweetjam series.

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