Citizen Integration

unicornCitizen Integration puts the tools of data management and integration directly into the hands of business analysts. The idea of the citizen developer evolved from the rapid pace of technology development. Today’s IT is so much easier to use than it was 20 years, or even 10 years, ago that it seems logical to jump to the conclusion that you could soon do without the IT department.

According to Gartner, “A citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.” Citizen Integration proponents argue that these proprietary vendor-supplied software tools are so intuitive they can enable any business analyst to perform ETL functions that in the past had only been done by SQL programmers within IT departments, even though the business analyst has no skills or experience in IT or development.

That also means business analysts no longer have to join a queue and wait for the IT department to get around to their ETL request—and they don’t have to explain to the developer what insights and actionable intelligence they’re looking to obtain from the data. 

Because they use a drag-and-drop interface, many Citizen Integration products are having some success with simple data integration tasks. But challenges quickly mount when users move beyond basic copy functions and commands and into more complex data tables and integrations. Managing tables with hundreds of fields, efficiently joining tables, or performing transformations are often way beyond what Citizen Integration tools are designed to handle.

The problem is this: business people understand business and IT people understand programming. You cannot be a business person for four hours a day and then change hats and start developing a program for the rest of the day. It simply does not make sense to be that bi-polar in your job. Also, it is unlikely that a marketing or product manager can truly visualize how a business idea translates into code, even with drag and drop non-coding platforms to use for development. Also, a citizen developer would be looking to solve only his/her particular business issue, which means the program may not fit into the overall IT environment.

In an article in Forbes, Adrian Bridgwater sums it up this way: “Ask a citizen developer if they think citizen programming is a good thing and they will say yes. Ask developer and they will say no.”

There are plenty of claims from vendors looking to push Citizen Integration tools onto companies, but here are five areas where the hype surrounding their effectiveness simply doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Myth One: Business analysts can use these tools to understand all types of data.

Drag and drop tools found in all Citizen Integration products can handle simple copy functions, but don’t do complex data sets, transforms or table joins without massive amounts of training on how to use the tools. And since companies now want to accomplish a lot more with all the data they gather, business analysts are often at a loss when the more advanced ETL functions need to be done. An elegant looking but complex product simply can’t turn business analysts into sophisticated integration developers, so Citizen Integration tools end up handling just a fraction of what they’re supposed to accomplish.

Myth Two:  A sophisticated vendor-supplied tool will simplify ETL functionality.

The drag-and-drop interface found in all Citizen Integration tools obscures the fact that these products include proprietary vendor-supplied transform functions. When even minor problems occur, identifying and solving them becomes far more difficult because the developers within your company’s IT department first need to wade through completely unfamiliar vendor-supplied software before they can even begin to figure out what went wrong. 

Myth Three: Citizen Integration is a Business Analyst time saver.

Pointing and clicking on lines using a graphical interface can work in small doses, but with complex ETL functions it can quickly become a laborious, time-consuming process. That fact alone is leading many firms to question whether they want their business analysts stuck handling the often tedious details of the physical implementation of data. Many Citizen Integration related problems are caused by the inability for business analysts to do complex data sets and transforms within Citizen Integration products without massive amounts of training on this new vendor supplied software.

Myth Four:  Citizen Integration can help redefine the IT and Business Analyst relationship.

Business executives and analysts can actually think up more stuff to do with their data and their technology than their IT departments can actually do at any one time, so IT departments often find themselves in a perpetual game of catch up.  That can be frustrating for business analysts who have to wait because they feel they don’t have control and can’t make rapid changes to a data driven business process.  Citizen Integration vendors claim they can end that frustration, but their products require a drop and drag interface that no business analyst can realistically use for deep data dives and transforms. The end result is that real collaboration between departments such as sales, marketing and customer service and the company’s IT workforce ends up dropping dramatically because IT ends up being the ambulance handling emergency after emergency and crisis after crisis caused by the use of these Citizen Integration products rather than being a collaborator and partner in the ETL transform process.

Myth Five: Citizen Integration amplifies the business analyst knowledge of their data.

Business analysts often make assumptions based on what they want the data to look like, but it’s the IT programmers who actually run the reports and do the sampling. As a result these IT programmers have a better understanding of what’s really in a company’s data warehouse and should be front and center when developing the transforms that get the most out of that data.

Takeaways

If any of these Citizen Integration myths sound familiar, you and your company are not alone. Plenty of firms have bought into the Citizen Integration hype and now find they are worse off that when they started. Citizen Integration products have not only routinely failed to live up to their promise, but often end up causing more problems for firms looking to get the most out of their data warehouses and enterprise integrations. The vendor-supplied proprietary software transform functions that come with Citizen Integration tools also end up making it much harder for IT professionals to understand the Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) process, so they often end up at a loss when the functions inevitably get very complex.

The legend of the citizen developer, business people who can whip up a software program without bothering to involve the IT department, is one that lives on despite no one ever having seen one. The citizen developer is like a unicorn; we want to believe that they exist but we simply do not have any proof. As told by one business analyst at a trade show:

It’s a great product. They’re a great company. I feel like I’m part of a community. I went to class for a month, and I’ve been trying to work with it since I got back to the office for the last two weeks. I can’t seem to figure out how to make it do what I want, but it’s a great product.