Citizen Integrators: The Key to Automating Your Tech Stack

The average business has 200 tools in its tech stack. Few of these systems are connected. This severely limits data insights, cost savings, and agility. It also makes automation nearly impossible.

The solution seems simple: ask IT to integrate disparate platforms.

Except IT teams are overloaded.

Demand for digital solutions is higher than ever. At the same time, there is a programmer shortage. Adding fuel to the fire, rising costs and slimmer budgets have forced businesses to reevaluate priorities.

This means that integration requests get brushed aside as programmers focus on what leadership identifies as more business-critical tasks.

An alternative approach is to leverage citizen integrators to build the necessary integrations, empowering organizations to scale automation.

Integration Challenges Facing Businesses

Businesses end up taking a backward approach to digital transformation unintentionally.

It starts with identifying a business need and a solution. Leadership rushes to onboard the new tool. It solves a pressing problem but silos data into a separate database.

That information sits there, unused. Impacted teams understand the importance of the data, so they reach out to IT, requesting a system integration.

The IT team is overwhelmed with a long backlog, though. So, they deprioritize the integration ticket and focus on more critical tasks.

Team members grow impatient. Automating new workflows appears impossible. Inevitably, they use spreadsheets to fill the gaps between systems, wasting time and money.

What started off as a business solution is now creating a new problem. Sadly, this often leads to adopting a new tool, which starts the cycle all over again.

Without integrations, businesses can’t take full advantage of their tech stack. More importantly, they can’t automate processes. Instead, they have a collection of data pools (or puddles).

It’s extremely inefficient.

While IT teams are qualified to bridge gaps between systems, they have a growing number of obstacles to overcome.

Challenges Facing IT Teams

  • Rising Customer Expectations: People want a seamless experience with as minimal slowdown or redundancy as possible.
  • Unclear Systems and Tools: Teams usually build business systems outward, creating a patchwork of systems with layers of unnecessary redundancies and gaps.
  • Misaligned Priorities: In a rush to deliver “more”, businesses can overlook the automation and integration potential of systems and tools.
  • Tech Bloat: Chasing after the latest tools can lead to waste as IT teams try to integrate new systems that are quickly abandoned for newer ones.
  • Lack of IT Resources: The programmer shortage is real. Tech talent is hard to find and expensive. Burnout is also high, leading to higher turnover.
  • IT Backlog: 62% of organizations report IT backlogs, with most requests going unmet and most major projects being behind schedule.
  • Demand Will Rise: Competition and shifting market trends will continue to make innovation necessary.

Despite these challenges, IT teams manage to build integrations and automate systems when they can. This results in disconnected automations.

While it’s somewhat beneficial, it’s not ideal for most businesses.

Businesses Need to Prioritize Integration and Automation

Businesses that can’t integrate processes can’t automate them. And if you can’t automate processes, you can’t compete against businesses that do.

To begin with, siloed data traps business insights. The only way to get a clear picture is to manually pull, clean, and combine data from different platforms.

This is a time-consuming process with a high chance of error. And by the time you finish, the data isn’t up-to-date.

Without integrations, you can’t fully automate. Instead, you get pockets of automation and efficiencies that may be negated by other stages in the process.

Worse, your team may use Shadow IT, spreadsheets, and even written notes to manage workflows. This makes data management essentially impossible and breaches more likely.

And you’ll still need someone to move that data through systems, increasing slowdowns while driving up labor costs.

This is why 80% of data in businesses goes unused.

Digital transformation has made this issue worse. The demand for more solutions has created increasingly fragmented businesses. More complex systems with more complex parts (many of which get overlooked) require more connections that don’t get made.

Organizations that integrate can automate systems and avoid those obstacles.

Their data flows between systems with minimal human interaction, giving their team more time to focus on strategic tasks.

That’s the time they use to innovate and grow.

And it all starts with system integration.

How Citizen Integrators Bridge The Gap Between Systems

Citizen integrators are full-time employees who use low-code tools to integrate and automate systems. They’re not professional developers, typically. Instead, they’re tech-savvy employees who use their business experience to create custom solutions.

They understand their workflows, systems, and tools. They’re also closer to the customer and know what they need. As a result, they’re expertly equipped to examine why processes exist and use integrations to get there faster. These solutions fit use cases, resulting in higher adoption rates and success.

It would be a mistake to think that citizen developers work outside IT oversight. Rather, they are an extension of IT, working with established guardrails and safe, sandbox environments.

Programmers focus on mission-critical tasks. Citizen developers manage less complex, integration-related tasks. Integrations no longer get deprioritized. Instead, businesses can scale systems and automate processes, resulting in cleaner data insights and increased efficiency.

How to Launch a Citizen Integrator Program (9 Steps)

Starting a citizen integration program is much more complicated than paying for a usage license on a low-code platform and letting your team connect systems.

If you do that, you’ll waste a lot of time and money while putting your business at risk.

Without oversight, team members will use your low-code platforms suboptimally, data won’t be clean, and your ROI will be limited.

To succeed, you need a clear plan for deploying citizen integration in your business.

This is how you do it.

1. Get Your IT Department On-Board

There is an assumption that because low code reduces dependency on IT that it aims to make professional programmers irrelevant. That is not the case.

Low-code platforms are tools designed to aid teams with limited IT resources (which is essentially every business at this point).

Leadership needs to highlight the benefits of low code while working with IT to establish the correct systems and guidelines. After, they need to lean on IT to govern citizen integrators, provide resources, and train team members on the technology.

Lead with the value citizen integrators and low code tools will provide for IT teams. Get them excited about reducing the stress and frustration from the ticket backlog. This is key.

2. Analyze Existing Workflows and Tools

This cannot be said enough: Citizen integrators aren’t IT professionals. They’re business users trained on low-code platforms.

Before launching a citizen integrator program, you need to map your processes and workflows to identify and eliminate redundancies.

Tech stacks are rarely pruned. Chances are that your business pays for redundant, unnecessary applications. Look for opportunities to eliminate and combine tools.

Be thorough.

Evaluate processes and workflows to identify dated systems that don’t support current business goals or customer needs. And work with IT to create a plan for sunsetting these systems.

Don’t be afraid to shrink your tech stack.

If you face pushback, focus on the cost of technical debt required to maintain these systems. And highlight the cost-saving benefits of improving systems with automation.

By mapping out your existing systems and tools, your citizen integrators can focus on building a more efficient tech ecosystem.

3. Choose the Best Low-Code Solution

Your citizen integrators need a low-code platform that fits your business niche and work culture. They’re not all the same. Each platform caters to specific use cases.

Take the time to find the right one for your business.

4. Integration Is a Tool (Not the Focus)

You want to set clear goals for your citizen integrators. Integration itself isn’t the goal. It’s a tool that helps you accomplish that goal.

Your goals should be tied to the needs of your customers, employees, and business.

The aim of each integration should be to support overall automation that drives value to the business or the customer.

If your citizen integrators can’t explain how a solution will improve either in clear terms, it’s not a priority. This ensures your team doesn’t automate for automation’s sake.

5. Establish Clear Frameworks And Guidance

Citizen integrators lack the extensive experience and skills that professional developers have. Rather than push IT away, citizen integrators need professional oversight, mentioning, and education to succeed.

Start by having your IT team design clear standards and guardrails for integration development. You need to provide resources and training as well.

6. Be Prepared to Manage Change

Most businesses have processes in place that took years to build. Despite being vastly inefficient, people will still cling to these systems because they’ve grown comfortable with them.

Integrating systems will completely rebuild these systems and workflows. Automation will reduce labor, costs, and headaches. Jobs and tasks will change.

But getting from Point A to Point B requires effective change management.

Don’t be surprised at employee and customer pushback. Instead, have systems and resources in place to ensure process improvements stick. Underscore how each integration and automation will improve the lives of your team.

7. Establish Baseline Data and Clear Goals

Without a baseline of data, it will be very difficult to measure KPI to gauge success.

You need to pull data from key systems at the start. Track time on tasks, delays, errors, etc. After, you need to establish clear goals for each project.

These goals should be realistic and measurable, allowing you to better determine your success rate on projects and ROI.

8. Create a Culture of Improvement Through Transparency

People learn from success and failure. After each project, ask your citizen integrators to share their insights. You should also clearly track and showcase the results of system improvements.

Share the wins with the team. Positive feedback and other incentives can inspire a culture of process improvement that will help break down bottlenecks and automate more systems.

At the same time, don’t shy away from losses. Failures highlight changes that need to happen so future projects can be successful. This will help establish realistic expectations.

The goal is always to achieve a leaner, more efficient tech stack and effective automation. Reflecting on results will help ensure success.

9. Continue to Educate Your Citizen Integrators

Technology is constantly growing and changing. As such, your citizen integrators need time and resources so they can continue to learn and grow.

Give your IT team time to collaborate with your citizen integrators. Provide resources and training to help them become more efficient and successful.

It’s important to highlight the importance of continuous improvement in automating and integrating systems.

In 2021, 96% of small businesses adopted a new tool. With new tools and features coming out constantly, you need to continuously look for ways to reduce inefficiencies in your organization.