What’s the deal with Shadow IT?
Shadow IT is a term that describes IT systems and solutions built and used inside organizations without IT approval. A group of people choosing to use a spreadsheet that they email back and forth instead of a company-approved means of storing and sharing crucial information, employees using DropBox to share notes and files, a developer who builds an unsanctioned custom piece of software to simplify or automate a repetitive task — all these are examples of shadow IT.
The challenges that emerge along with this phenomenon surely need to be considered: loss of data, identity theft, data security, integrity of exchanged information, intellectual property protection, viruses and other malware, and legislation on data location.
However, according to a recent study by Stratecast and Frost & Sullivan , 80% of knowledge workers use in their work software or services that have not been officially cleared for use by IT. This is driven by the trend towards mobility, geographical dispersion of employees, and the growing importance of a closer connection to business partners.
Basically, with all the risks in mind, employees continue to use unauthorized tools, but they are not using these apps and systems for personal gain or misguided reasons. They are using them because they allow them to do their job more easily and efficiently. It’s not that they’re set out to disobey IT or expose the company to risk – it’s just that they feel the sanctioned tools aren’t enough, and that the IT department seems to refuse to respond to their needs. So they found better, more suitable tools on their own initiative.
Shadow IT can become a great opportunity
This unauthorized use of tools, labeled “Shadow IT,” is often considered a risk by IT managers who are trying to control the data flow and interaction between systems as it can lead to security breaches, data silos and extra costs.
However, IT could adopt a new role in the enterprise, enforcing and encouraging employees to provide a value-added service for the new software-defined data ecosystem, as opposed to being defensive about owning IT. I believe it’s no longer good enough to just be there enabling them, but instead IT has to work side-by-side with the employees to co-create value and power, and enable the company together.
It’s time for IT departments to seek cooperation, and here are the main arguments you should consider:
- IT departments can only take on so much work – The demand for IT services often exceeds the supply, and having IT take on more than it can handle means poorer-quality work. Because Shadow IT delivers information technology without involving the IT department, it adds bandwidth, allowing them to handle more essential tasks like integration.
- Get passed the requirements-gathering phase – Shadow IT simplifies the requirements-gathering phase because the people creating or finding the tech are the people who have to use it. They already know the problems, processes, and needs.
- Innovation is the future – Shadow IT is a result of people who believe that “good enough isn’t good enough”. What business manager wouldn’t want to encourage such beliefs in his/her company? Innovative employees make innovative businesses.
- Employee recognition – Shadow IT provides a way for employees who have created/mastered the tools to gain some recognition for having done so. This will keep your employees motivated and empowered.
The use of Shadow IT in your organization suggests that there are needs that aren’t being met, and that people are actively helping themselves and looking for solutions. Try to view this as an opportunity to help them. Successful IT departments recognize that their role is shifting from developing and writing applications to governance and orchestration. This requires a much greater understanding and prioritization, and those who have adjusted accordingly are making sure that business operations are as streamlined and effective as possible.
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