How the Hybrid Integration Platform helps convert Shadow IT to Citizen Development

It was Monday morning and there was a cheerful atmosphere among the company's IT staff. They had worked on a new project release for over one year, the acceptation testing had resulted in a convincing GO, and the deployment to the production environment had taken place during the past weekend without a single hitch. Everybody was optimistic and ready to see the results of their hard work. But it wasn't how they had expected it would be. Users called in with complaints. Their Excel sheets, which contained some custom scripting, didn't work anymore. The report they relied on gave errors. The small piece of crucial software, of which IT never knew its existence, hung on them. What had happened?

Shadow IT has existed for a long time. And for a long time, there hasn't really been an answer to it. It's the elephant in the room: we know it's there, and as much as we would like, we can't really prohibit it. The reality is that users can and do bring in their own solutions to some of their problems. Now, why is this happening? Why can't IT solve these problems for them?

There are a few reasons:

  1. There are big projects going on or planned, with higher priority.
  2. Solving the specific, often individual problem a business user is facing, is too time-consuming for the relatively low business value they bring.
  3. There are simply not enough IT experts to develop and support both the business-critical projects as well as the typical problems a business user wants to solve for himself.

In itself the problem is not that business users are bringing their own solutions for the problems they face or the needs they have. The problem is that these solutions are not visible in the IT landscape. As such it is hard to support them and even harder to factor them in to, for example, infrastructure or software migration scenarios. The question is, how can we mitigate the negative consequences of shadow IT? How can we properly respond to the needs of business users, while simultaneously supporting their solutions, and keeping the focus on projects with higher strategic value?

Enter… the Hybrid Integration Platform

There is a lot of detail as to what constitutes a Hybrid Integration Platform (HIP from here on), but the following schematic breaks it down into four core layers:

Our focus for today is on the outer layer of the HIP: it is an integration platform that caters to different types of integrators, also called "integration personas". We can describe 3 main personas:

  1. Integration specialists. These are IT professionals who require complete control over the tooling by making use of its various and complex possibilities.
  2. Ad-hoc integrators. These are users active on LOB projects, who need more fit for purpose tools.
  3. Citizen Integrators. These are business users, not IT professionals, and they need a simple, no-code interface.

These different personas need a different user experience, a different interface that is suited for their needs and capabilities. The HIP provides this.

Of course, it doesn’t just suffice to make the HIP available to users and let them go work with it. Consider the image below, courtesy of Gartner:

As pictured, integration specialists need to train users and give a level of support. They will also need to govern the use of it to a certain extent. This takes some initial and ongoing effort, but it also ensures the platform will be used as imagined and it will, in the end, actually serve to free up integration specialists in order to work on mission-critical projects.

And thus, by leveraging the capabilities of a HIP, IT can provide business users with an easy-to-use interface to solve the problems they would have solved with shadow IT in the past. Business users can fulfil their own needs, they can access various company IT resources, but in a controlled and supported way. They can (re)use resources provided by IT, and IT can ensure these solutions keep on working after new upgrades, migrations and/or project releases go to production.

There are some don'ts…

Firstly, not every type of problem should be tackled with citizen integration. Ideally we want citizen integrators to use the HIP for applications that are not complex, and have low to medium business criticality. When a requirement becomes highly critical to business, it should ideally be carried out by integration specialists in order to provide a structural, well thought-out solution.

Secondly, don't use the HIP as a tool to enrol business users in the integration role to fulfil IT targets. The HIP is there to find a better balance in the enterprise between different integration personas and the various business needs and requirements - it is not there to force business users to do work that would have been executed by integration specialists.

This way we can give citizen integrators a tool so they can cater to their own needs, while integration experts can focus on projects with high business criticality, ensuring better delivery and higher efficiency.

Note that along the way, "shadow IT" has been converted into "citizen integration". While the terms are linked, the latter implies a controlled way of integrating and represents a more positive way of thinking about business user integration.

The logical question you're asking now is: how can we control what is offered to the citizen integrators, and what to expose through the HIP? Stay tuned, as we will cover this in a future blog post.

Matthias De Scheerder