Users no longer have to depend on their organization’s IT department to get the technology they need, insomuch that they can download apps to their mobile devices. They can activate cloud services with a few keystrokes or have a managed service provider build them customized systems, all without having the IT staff aware that this technology is now in operation.
Known as “shadow IT,” this practice of using unapproved technology for work has become more prevalent in recent years. It follows the growth of cloud applications as users turn to the programs they employ outside the office.
Love it or hate it, shadow IT is part of every organization’s IT environment. While the use of shadow IT raises a number of red flags, organization leaders can find benefits as well. The critical element is that IT and organization leaders must accept shadow IT and, more importantly, take steps to ensure that it helps rather than hurts the organization.
What’s Not to Like?
If unwatched, shadow IT can cause a number of problems for IT leaders. These include:
- Security threats: Users do not always take the security precautions IT leaders would prefer. As more users adopt mobile and cloud solutions outside the enterprise security boundary, the more the enterprise is exposed to risk.
- Inefficient spending: When multiple users or business units procure similar capabilities from different vendors, the organization can spend on different versions of similar tools and miss out on opportunities for volume discounts.
- Scattered data: Technology solutions acquired through shadow IT generate valuable data that organization leaders could harness, but that data goes to waste with shadow IT, because no one knows it exists.
- Integration nightmares: Software buyers rarely give ease of integration much consideration when they make a purchase. IT staff can face serious technical headaches when random employees integrate new platforms into the broader enterprise environments.
What’s to Love?
While most of the attention on shadow IT focuses on the challenges, it can also provide benefits if IT leaders know where to look. Technologically autonomous users can quickly discover and implement tools that help them succeed. This rapid adoption enhances user engagement, helping organizations retain the most motivated and digitally adept people.
Additionally, by shifting technology costs to units within an organization, shadow IT helps rationalize budget allocation. Each unit’s leaders pay for their own software consumption directly, allowing the IT department to devote its budget to what it does best: centralized governance and strategic innovation.
For these reasons and others, shadow IT will likely grow to where most technology spending takes place — outside of a formal IT organization.
Leading the Tech-Empowered Business
The use of shadow IT will continue. It’s up to IT leaders to adapt while keeping these best practices in mind:
- Embrace business empowerment: IT leaders who resist shadow IT will find themselves fighting a losing battle. It makes more sense to acknowledge shadow IT’s appeal and to position the IT department as a valuable partner, rather than as the enemy.
- Cooperatively define reasonable policies and processes: IT leaders can provide guidelines that help users avoid bad choices without impeding good ones. These guidelines can include app whitelists and blacklists, as well as rapid review of cloud-based tools that users want to pilot.
- Security evolution: To address new exposures that shadow IT creates, IT leaders can adopt new security capabilities, such as security information and event management systems. These can detect new anomalies and domain name server-based traffic controls while protecting users from interacting with malicious sites.
- Create community: IT leaders can create internal web communities that socialize the best discoveries and biggest mistakes of users. This positions the IT department as a trusted adviser, while allowing technology staff to keep an eye on who’s doing what.
To learn more about addressing this complex challenge, check out this article in BizTech Magazine and don’t forget to sign up for the CDW Solutions Blog monthly e-newsletter to stay on the cutting edge of tech.