Is Shadow IT a Problem?

Mike Guerrieri | 12.23.19
Topics: CIO - Digital Transformation - IT Maturity
In the old days, IT controlled all technology because it was expensive and required specialized technical skills to manage. This was widely accepted because the non-IT parts of business generally lacked the requisite technical expertise. They became accustomed to waiting in line with the rest of the business for their technology projects. However, as demand for technology surged, IT departments began to accumulate years of work in their project backlogs and this model began to fray.

As the prevalence of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications and expectations for technology user experience (UX) increased, line-of-business owners and tech-savvy non-IT staff grew impatient with IT and—often against policy—acquired technology on their own that they felt would meet their business needs, improve customer experience, and optimize business process efficiency. As a result, technology management was unofficially dispersed throughout organizations. This became known as “shadow IT.”


What now?

The genie has long left the bottle and it’s not coming back. As Johanna Ambrosio notes: “In IDC's most recent Worldwide Semiannual IT Spending Guide: Line of Business forecasts that technology spending by business decision makers will overtake technology spending by the IT department in 2019.”

So, what are IT leaders supposed to do? Should they attempt to assert themselves and desperately hold on to the systems that IT still controls? Or, should they throw up their hands and reminisce about the good old days when they were needed for their technical prowess? Neither option is the right choice for an organization interested in improving its IT maturity.

Without IT involvement or any kind of enterprise architecture plan, systems proliferate like weeds, data is partitioned and siloed, and user experience becomes inconsistent. Business units lack the time and experience to properly manage the technology they now control. It becomes harder for cross-functional teams to perform while navigating multiple solutions that perform the same task (we often see MANY duplicative tools in our clients’ application portfolios, especially for project management). Ultimately, the customer is forced to engage with multiple disparate systems with different UX—that often require separate sign-ins. The result of an abdication of IT involvement is technology anarchy.

The rest of the business still needs IT as a partner to bring order to the chaos or, even better, prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some tips to become that valued and trusted partner:

  • Establish IT governance – Start by creating a technology steering team made up of staff representing a cross-section of business units. This will help align IT with the rest of the business and give IT clearer insight into business challenges and opportunities. Establishing and enforcing governance is also a way to demonstrate that non-IT staff also have responsibility to comply with standards that are meant for the good of the whole organization.
  • Develop an IT product and service catalog for staff – Shadow IT can sometimes be the result of a lack of awareness about what IT is already available. To help ensure that staff are aware of the IT services available, develop a simple catalog that contains basic information about each service, as well as how to request access to the service.
  • Develop an agile enterprise architecture – Use enterprise standards to make it easier to integrate systems. A CRM/AMS with an open API makes it easier to select best of need systems without siloing your data. Additionally, if you have a standard set of approaches for integration, those standards can be included in your functional requirements when considering new systems.
  • Improve IT’s ability to execute – Use disciplined project management to get IT projects done more quickly and effectively. Getting things done will make IT an attractive partner.
  • Empower non-IT staff to experiment with technology – Create opportunities for non-IT staff to learn about emerging technology. Design experiments to test the viability of a new solution before committing to it fully.
  • Stop using language that separates IT from the business – It’s important that IT has a service orientation, but calling fellow staff “customers” is an example of us vs. them thinking. They are colleagues, not customers.
  • Lead by example and include non-IT staff in IT-led projects – When rolling out enterprise tools (e.g., Microsoft SharePoint), including non-IT staff in the process will lead to better adoption and broaden the perspective of the team.

Shadow IT can certainly be a problem in an organization that doesn’t value IT as a partner. If you can help line-of-business owners meet their needs while adhering to enterprise standards that focus on the benefit to the whole organization, you will make shadow IT an opportunity, not a problem.

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