Control shadow IT – or embrace it?

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This week, we’re trying very hard not to think about the EU referendum, despite it being all anyone is talking about. So rather than discussing the relative merits of whether we should be voting in or out, who did best on the debate, and which campaign has behaved badly, we thought we’d distract ourselves from the whole sorry business with a quick look at a completely different topic: shadow IT.

Shadow IT is essentially any technology being used in your company, whether hardware, software or services, that was brought in by your users without the knowledge or approval of your IT team.  This can range from someone connecting their personal iPhone to the company wi-fi network, to sharing company files using applications like Dropbox, to buying in a whole application or software service to support a business unit’s work.

You might not think your organisation has much shadow IT – but could be surprised by the reality. In a study from August 2015, Cisco found that while the IT departments surveyed thought their users were using an average of 51 cloud services, the real figure was actually a staggering 730.

Much of the initial discussions around shadow IT have been around the risks it can pose to an organisation, particularly in terms of data security, and has therefore focused on how to stop it happening or train users out of the practice. But there is increasing recognition that when your users start bringing in shadow IT, this can be a useful signal to IT departments about where to focus some strategic thought and even promote innovation within the organisation.

With the advent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and software as a service (SaaS), it is much easier for employees to use any applications they want for work purposes, which means they are far more likely to try and find workarounds for obstacles they encounter in their working life. This puts the onus on IT departments to be highly responsive and focus on clearing those obstacles as far as possible, and consider the possibility of including those applications into the organisation’s infrastructure.

As Bill Berutti, president of the Cloud, Data Center, and Performance Businesses at BMC, says “Apps and services that were once seen as rogue are now viewed as innovative tech, which can contribute to a corporation’s capability to deliver new revenue streams, open new markets and increase employee productivity.”

Users taking the initiative to select applications that help them work better or faster are in fact highly engaged and committed to the business, which makes them the perfect candidates for helping organisations innovate and improve their processes. Chief Marketing Officer Kyle Cebull makes exactly this point in a recent article, suggesting that turning those ‘rogue’ employees into an R&D committee to select and evaluate new tech is a great way of turning shadow IT into a positive.

With the array of applications, services and tech available for organisations large and small, there’s never been a better time to embrace shadow IT and see what it can tell you about how your organisation can be more efficient and more productive. As Simon Mingay, vice president of research at Gartner, says: “Resistance is futile.”

If you’d like to talk about identifying and harnessing shadow IT use in your business, give us a call on 0117 974 5179 / 0207 043 7044 or