Shadow IT: how to use it to your company’s advantage

8 minute read

Upland Admin

Late in the evening, you are entering the office. Dripping wet, you hurry toward the elevators as the squeaking of your black boots fill the hall. The elevator doors open . . .ding. . . you hear nothing but the sound of your breathing. Airing a dark over-sized coat just sticks out their hands right before the doors shut close. As the lift moves up, from time to time you catch a glimpse of the person’s face through the elevator’s mirrored walls. A dark coughing mask with a black rose design covers their mouth: Deep black eyes stare back at you. A few seconds passed, yellow lights start flickering, as the lift begins to slow down — your heartbeat rises. Then you realize where and what in the business world am I reading? For pumpkin’s sake, it’s Halloween!  

It’s that time of the year when most of us share dark, bleak and scary stories that make us wanting to sleep beside mommy and daddy at least when we were youngerThe IT world is not an exception from having dark, bleak and scary stuff as well. One of which is known as, Shadow IT. According to leading industry analystShadow IT refers to IT devices, software and services outside the ownership or control of IT organizations. Shadow IT is one of the many things that CIOs and upper level IT management fear, and not just during Halloween seasonIthis blog I will show how you and your company can leverage Shadow IT and use it to your advantage to learn, engage, and innovate. Exploiting the concept of Shadow IT is 96th reason to go beyond Telecom Expense Management and manage your Enterprise Digital Footprint

Based on the largest IT leadership survey done by KPMG advisory in 201963% of organizations allow “business-managed IT” spendThat means that at least one-thirds of organizations have employees that personally bring and control their IT resources like productivity apps and such without the consent of their respective IT department heads.  

If the concept of Shadow IT still seems vague, let me introduce you to El, Mike and Dustin. Consider them as your employees, or perhaps your co-workers. El is one of your speedy-working colleagues. Every time she wants to use an application for a work project she acquires the services required herself. She does not wait for any approval, nor ask any permission from the IT department because she knows how long it would take for such a request to be processed. That acquisition behind the IT department’s back exemplifies the simplest form of Shadow IT. 

 Another example is your main-man Mike. In this case, Mike is more than just an employee, he is one of the heads of your company’s departments. Having the authority to make decisions for his respective team, Mike works his magic and gains tacit or explicit approval from CFOs to get around the CIOs in funding the services required for his team to kick start a project. Because the IT department has zero visibility on these actions, Mike and the CFO are both guilty of Shadow IT.  

Last example is Dustin, your smart young tech-savvy newly-hired colleague. With all the practical and technical knowledge Dustin got from his recently concluded education, he downloads a low-costing application that allows him to manage his work-related files across all the devices he uses for his daily tasks. Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, since the IT department is not aware of the purchase, and the low cost seems to not cause a big issue, the company files uploaded to the third-party application raises privacy concerns and security risks. The files become vulnerable to security breach, harming company’s intellectual property and sensitive data, since there is no way for the company’s IT department to control the access to the application. Dustin faces a double whammy in dealing with possible breach of information which was caused by his practice of Shadow IT. These illustrations may be fictional, but many people may have experienced or encountered the same scenario in your respective workplaces.  

With the evolution of various cloud solutions, and the rapid growth and development of the IT Industry, concerns about Shadow IT will only become more important in the years to come. In fact, one of the projections facilitated by ServerCentral, shows that in 8 years, based upon their research of consumer trends, 90% of IT spending will take place outside of the IT organizationThe proliferation of Shadow IT may open costing issues and raise privacy concerns, but on another perspective, it can also create a crack, as singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen describes in the song “Anthem”, then “that’s how the light gets in.” Shadow IT, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad, evil or notoriously dark stuff. There are ways in which you can leverage it to your company’s advantage. Being consistent with the season, here are some tips, not tricks, but treats for you to take note of: 

No1Learn from the Shadow

Despite the problems and challenges that shadow IT brings to your company, it creates a learning opportunity for you and the rest of the IT department. Your employees or colleagues act of taking matters to their own hands is a good indicator that they take initiatives to find better solutions to help the organization. From the that experience, as an IT department leader you should learn that you must improve the process of approving tech requests from different departments within the company. One thing to remember: Your IT team needs to operate better than Shadow IT. 

No2Engage your employee 

According to a leading analyst firm give at least 20% to 50% of total work hours engaging with the stakeholder community, and a big part of that group is your company’s valuable employees. Since today’s workforce becomes increasingly technologically-savvy, it is crucial for the IT team to give some power to the employees of different departments. If there’s a perfect time to listen to what the employees are saying or suggesting with regards to technology, that time is now! According to research, by 2020 more than half of the workforce will be digital citizens. This rising bunch will have a special relationship with technology that will surpass any generation of workforce that exist. Quick tip: Share the decision-making processes to your employees regarding technology — more heads are typically better than one.  

No3Get Ready to Innovate

Given the employees initiative to utilize applications and software out of the IT department’s coverage, more and more options come to challenge your current tech strategy. Therefore, as an IT leader, it is your job to adapt to the digital transformation brought forth by the shifting demand in the organization. It is about time to enlarge your network and try to reach out to the applications and software providers caused by Shadow IT. According to CIO Magazine, in the article CIOs Vastly Underestimate Extent of Shadow ITBob Dimicco, a global leader and founder of Cisco’s Cloud Consumption Service, mentions that instead of trying to stop Shadow IT, he tries to consider how it could possibly add value to their current processesHe even says that the tech involved in the practice could represent hybrid IT Indeed, innovation at this time of pivotal transition is key to advancing the company forward. Take note: IT department could serve as the middle man between the apps and software used as Shadow IT in order to build a network of trust within the organization.  

No4Consider a Provider 

And if ever you feel that the consequences of Shadow IT become way out of control, perhaps it is the right time to let a professional handle it for you. In today’s market, there is only 28% of IT leaders that use some kind of SaaS management tool to get visibility into Shadow ITA provider can add value to your company by giving visibility and helpful insights to the usage and costs of technology within your company. With expense management services like Cimpl, for instance, your organization can focus more on getting the business done rather than thinking too much about the costs and expenses that come with it. Sometimes the answer to our problems is simple. It could be better to focus on what’s more important and let others help you with the less value generating activities to your business 

Shadow IT poses a lot of risks and harm to your company. All the advantages I have mentioned does not undermine the seriousness of the issue. However, Shadow IT is not the absolute villain nor dark force of IT, if you will. As IT leaders, we must always look at things from different angles. It is not the technology that should be controlling us, but rather, we should hold a tight grip and harness it toward a better and a more sustainable industry as we continue forging ahead.   

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