So What is Shadow IT Anyway?

176217552Well, it’s a term often used to describe IT systems or solutions used inside organizations without approval. It is also used, along with the term “Stealth IT or Rogue IT,” to describe solutions specified and deployed by departments other than the IT department.

Here’s an interesting stat to get started. Gartner says by 2020 90 percent of IT budgets will be controlled outside of the department, and Forrester says IT could be obsolete by then. I’m not going to put my house on that prediction but I can definitely see a pattern where decisions about IT spending are happening more and more within business divisions and do not involve IT at all. Some people say Shadow IT is a bad thing, some say it’s good. I say it’s both. Shadow IT has been around in different formats for many years and will be here far into the future. Whether it’s good or bad will depend on how your organisation embraces and works with Shadow IT.

According to Forrester, 43 percent of technology purchases today involve Shadow IT. That’s not to say IT hasn’t been directly involved with those purchases, so that stat doesn’t really tell us how much Shadow IT works inside organisations. However, the report does shed some light on the issue when it lists some of the top reasons departments are bypassing IT:

IT may have too many other priorities

Procurement processes that are slow and inefficient

IT lacking the necessary resources

IT not staying ahead of new service offerings available.

You can see why departments want to go it alone and make their own purchases. IT may have other priorities that need to be dealt with. They might be down on resources from last year and it will take time to get the new system that Joe from HR wants.

Everyone has been involved in some form of Shadow IT. For me, the best example was when I needed a new laptop. Our company standard for my role was a big, heavy laptop with 16GB memory and lots of disk space.

My issue was that, for the Australian market, I spent more time travelling, so needed a slightly different spec. A lighter model that was easier to carry. I didn’t want the standard US power supply (obviously), and since we worked predominantly with a different vendor I wanted their model instead. I was told that if I bought outside of the standard model, I ran the risk of “breaking the automated system.” So after disagreeing with IT, I simply asked my manager first, and then ordered a local laptop online on my credit card and expensed it at the end of the month. Shadow IT at its best.

The Solution to this? Shadow IT won’t ever go away, in fact it’s likely to get bigger. The question then becomes how does IT embrace Shadow IT to solve some of the challenges mentioned already?

Shadow IT means that people see problems in the current process and want to find a solution. We need to make it easy for people to come forward and share their ideas. I have seen two specific examples of IT working closer with Shadow IT, neither is better than the other and both are examples of where IT can help.

The first is where, in a previous job, IT knew that people were using their own laptops and mobile devices in the workplace. We had no BYOD strategy or standard model that everyone had, so rather than IT trying to prevent these devices from being used, they went down the education route where they provided advice and guidance for any employees who wanted to use their own. Step-by-step guides on how to make sure your security settings were set high enough or advice on what they could do to prevent risk. As time went on, users started to see that IT was making an effort, so they were more inclined to keep them involved.

The second example was where the company was using a good IT Service Management solution. Users could log onto the self-service portal and request standard offerings such as software, hardware requests, time off etc. As IT began to see Shadow IT happening more often, they decided to add another item in the Self Service portal for suggestions on how they could improve current process. They put a gamification style reward onto it so that those who had ideas scored points and got rewarded so people took it seriously. After a month, IT said they had implemented three ideas that made existing processes either easier, quicker or more in line with what users wanted. It’s fair to say, Shadow IT has dropped in that organisation.

So it’s important to start somewhere. It could be a small step or a large one, but there’s no time like the present to start embracing Shadow IT in your organisation.

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