Shadow IT is created by visionaries, not criminals

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Shadow ITShadow IT has become the friend of the Marketing Department and other Lines of Business and the foe of the IT Team. That’s the caricature anyway – and if it’s your view, you need to think again.

I know from past experience that it is possible to create value from Shadow IT. You can make it work for you and empower your people to be visionaries, but it takes a shift in perspective.

Some businesses feel overrun by unsanctioned, unmanageable apps, or storage platforms, communication channels and utilities – which is sometimes labelled ‘Stealth IT’ (why is it that anything that’s seen to threaten IT is given a destructive name like ‘Stealth’ or ‘Shadow’?)

But the important thing to note is that in today’s digital world, everyone has incredible power at their fingertips: everyone who carries a smartphone or a tablet; anyone connected to the web in fact.

This can be seen as a threat or an opportunity.

Personally, I think it’s great. I’m a techie at heart, and I was an application software developer earlier in my career. I think it’s important – essential even – to make your people as productive as they can be by giving them the best technology you can find, along with the freedom to work the way they want.

If you think about the massive rise of some of the well-known start-ups, they frequently find success by empowering their workforces through tools such as cloud-based collaboration services, enabling biz innovation from within the organisation, and supporting initiatives that grow the business or give it the edge over the competition.

Enter Shadow IT. I’m not one for reeling off stats for the sake of it but these are pretty interesting: according to one survey, 61 percent of businesses created a mobile app in 2015 without involving the IT department; another survey the same year revealed only eight percent of companies can track Shadow IT in their organisation.

The scare stories will tell you that Shadow IT increases vulnerability, risk and cost and leads to process and data duplication, all of which are possible, of course.

However, the benefits of proactively supporting Shadow IT far outweigh these potential drawbacks. It is possible to give your users what they want whilst fully integrating services, such as file sharing and collaboration, into your IT strategy.

Here are some of the things you should do to bring Shadow IT into the light and get the best from it.

Try to identify the reason why different departments are choosing to find their own apps and platforms. What do they need to do that current systems can’t do? Could they be using enterprise-grade secure cloud services instead, or use the systems of their choice in a safer and more secure way?

Another approach is to give your employees healthy guidelines for how they use information in both officially sanctioned and non-sanctioned systems, in order to protect the security, privacy and intellectual property of the business. This is obviously good practice in any case.

You should also encourage Shadow IT innovation. Create a culture where you can showcase and celebrate it. I know from my own experience that when I saw a new mobile app I thought would help me in my work, I wanted to use it straightaway. I’m regularly out at meetings, and I wanted to present from my smartphone, rather than my laptop. There was an app for that – it wasn’t sanctioned by IT, but it worked really well. By taking the initiative, I wanted to be seen as a force for good, not a criminal.

Technology and media-centric organisations are among the biggest users of Shadow IT, and they tend to be very creative in how they are using cloud, mobile and social to work smarter, faster and more flexibly.

By holding I.T innovation contests, you can find the best apps and technologies in use in the organisation, get ahead of the users and investigate their features, security and potential. Then, work with the people who want to use them, so you can help them get the most out of the tools.

Or, you should find someone in the business who wants to champion a system that’s making a difference to the way they work. A lot of successful businesses have turned their employees into ‘citizen developers’ – non-IT specialist members of staff who are empowered to quickly and easily build or deploy solutions that address a specific business need or pain point without support from the IT department. Citizen developers can help innovation spread throughout the business as other departments hear about a solution and its positive results through the grapevine.

The best thing about getting on top of Shadow IT is that you can foster creativity and productivity, and give people a real sense of freedom in how they do their jobs. The result could be that it changes the way employees engage with each other or with customers. It might mean they free up time in their working day, or gain more control over their time in a way that improves their quality of life.

At the end of the day, the growth of Shadow IT in your organisation should be seen as an opportunity for your business, not a problem caused by your co-workers. The Box strategy for addressing Shadow IT in the Enterprise doesn’t place the blame on employees and it caters for the priorities of the IT department.

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    Stuart Gammon (Regional VP – Northern Europe for Box) will be discussing how key trends such as mobile ubiquity, the networked economy, and infinite commuting have led to the inevitable conclusion that all companies must become digital companies. The success of market disruptors such as Netflix, Spotify, and Deliveroo are undeniable. But most large incumbent organisations tend to attribute that success to the digital application or experience created by that company. Is the answer really so simple- just create an app? This session will discuss the critical elements to enabling a disruptive business model that helps us to re-imagine the way we work and the experience we provide.

Tony Cheema

I have 15+ years of experience, working for some of the most innovative enterprise software companies in the world. During this time, I've worked with Financial Services, Commercial and Public Sector clients, helping them figure out their IT strategy. I was one of the first guys on board at Box in Europe. When they approached me to join, I already knew about them - I was always a closet techie being an ex-developer (I’m the one checking out new technologies and tech CEOs on tech sites at 2am). My view was: “this company is cool, their technology is as sexy as it gets, and the future is the cloud - this could work!”

1 Response

  1. Jim DuBois says:

    Great article. The key is for IT to embrace “all” IT, wherever it happens in your company. When Satya Nadella told me that I was accountable for all IT, whether it reported to me or not, it changed the way my team and I worked. The ability to drive digital transformation leveraging innovation across the whole company allows us to drive at a pace that wouldn’t be possible with just those that report hard line into the IT organization. The benefits are larger, it creates a more enjoyable rather than contentious environment for all to work, and allows us to work together in governing the downsides of history shadow IT related to costs and risk. All good if people have the right mindset.

    Jim DuBois
    (soon to be retired) CIO of Microsoft

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