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“Do it yourself” software development: the power is in your hands

Citizen development, the development of software applications by staff that are not professional software developers, is an important trend in industry, and a critical component of Shell’s digitalisation journey. It empowers our staff to create bespoke solutions for their daily process out of the data available to them. That is how we unlock untapped value with digital solutions.

By Nils Kappeyne, Vice-President for DIY Software Development on May 3, 2021

Embracing the possibility that everyone, wherever they sit in the organisation can improve our operations by developing a software application is known within Shell as “do it yourself” software development. It delivers significant and rapid cost savings while supporting the democratization of digital skills among our staff.

Take for example Fernando, an engineer a refinery in Texas, who developed an application to help manage and supervise complex and time-consuming maintenance procedures. For years, he would think of ways to simplify them. With our citizen development programme, he finally could. The Microsoft Power Apps platform enabled him to improve and ease these operations.

Originally, there was no easy way to review the data displaying the overall health and safety risks that come with site pump maintenance. Fernando’s intent was to automate part of the process, especially the data collection and visualisation. The idea came from consulting colleagues in Europe who faced similar challenges and now share in his excitement for this application.

Despite his technical background, Fernando had not previously worked in the software development space. To develop his app, he sought support from his friends in IT to overcome hurdles such as data access and found the self-taught trial and error approach a fun and effective way to learn the basics. Thanks to the support of our established global community of citizen developers, he could build the application in just a few months.

Citizen development is critical to our digitalisation journey. We empower those closest to the business problems to develop information technology (IT) applications and deliver bespoke solutions. Modern software tools, particularly in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) environments, have revolutionised software development. Low-code or no-code applications have made it possible for nearly everyone to be a developer and create and generate value. It means that staff can create their own software with very little or no need for coding, within a safe and controlled environment. This is achieved through a self-service portal, comprehensive training and engaging communities.

Scaling up this trend in a sensible and safe way will be an important initiative for the coming years, and a critical component of building digital capabilities in our company. Citizen development allows us to complete the many digitalisation projects that bring value, but just not enough to justify a usual companywide IT investment. In our downstream manufacturing business alone, within a year, we have trained more than a thousand citizen developers who have developed more than 75 live bespoke applications. And there are at least 200 more applications in the pipeline.

Fernando’s story demonstrates the importance of a “digital-for-all" culture. It brings innovation capability directly into the hands of everybody in Shell and has the potential to attract new talent, who expect to be able to develop digital solutions themselves. To match the infectious energy of our citizen developers, we have set up a change campaign to drive the upskilling journey. We created a dedicated digital curriculum to support, facilitate, guide and coach. Bootcamps and hackathons bring people together - staff and leaders alike - to learn from each other, which in turn enriches the positive appetite for citizen development around the company.

Democratizing software development at Shell is a global behavioural change programme. It relies on dedicated teams that support the developer community and an enabling framework to manage security risks, data handling and other IT concerns. We nurture a new work culture that adopts and develops apps from tools from other companies like Microsoft and Salesforce. This is aligned with our wider effort do democratise AI and support digital literacy among our staff. My lesson from this journey: shifting attitudes and behaviours is a challenge worth taking!

Back in the refinery, the data generated by Fernando’s app has helped improve the site’s pump management strategy for over a year, beyond the original intent. It is used by site management to compare maintenance costs versus pump reliability and has proven useful to the maintenance department in diagnosing common failure trends. In addition, the app’s data is now fully integrated into the facility’s performance dashboard.

Fernando’s story is one of empowerment, continuous learning and enjoyment of “do it yourself” software development. This is a story shared by many colleagues at Shell and it’s just the beginning of this transformative journey.

To hear more about Shell’s citizen development journey, watch this interview of Nils Kappeyne with Richard Holsman, Accenture Microsoft Business Group Lead, Europe.

Nils Kappeyne is the Vice-President for DIY Software Development, at Shell Information Technology International in The Hague. He leads an initiative across Shell’s businesses to democratise digital and empower staff to develop together bespoke digital solutions that support Powering Progress, the strategy to accelerate the transition of our business to net-zero emissions.