Turning the Problem of Shadow IT into Opportunity

shadow it

Shadow IT remains rampant but ultimately represents an opportunity for IT to learn and grow.


The ease of deployment, use and maintenance of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications is something of a double-edged sword for IT departments. While they often let IT lower their support burdens and costs, they also effectively give every employee within an organization an easy way to circumvent IT altogether and acquire their own cloud-based tools without IT's involvement or knowledge.

Known as “Shadow IT,” the practice of going around IT is fairly rampant; according to a survey conducted by Frost & Sullivan, 80% of respondents admitted to using software without IT's consent.

The Origins

Today's employees are, on average, considerably more tech-savvy than in the past. The ubiquity of smart devices in our personal lives has given way to an expectation of intuitive user experiences and designs from our office applications as well. We get comfortable interacting with our devices and our data in a certain way, so why can't we bring those experiences to work with us?

Couple these new expectations with SaaS solutions that can be instantly deployed, oftentimes with no upfront costs (or at least a lengthy free trial period), and you've created a recipe for bucking IT's oversight. Departments and even individuals can freely test, try and even buy SaaS tools with very little effort, and so shadow IT remains.

Turning a Problem into a Solution

So what is IT to do about this problem? While it might sound a bit cliché, every problem we face represents an opportunity. Instead of punishing rogue employees or lamenting being circumvented, IT can use instances of shadow IT within their organization to learn more about how to deliver value to each department.

If a line of business has decided to go behind your back to acquire a piece of software that meets their needs, where did that line of communication fall down?

Did you provide something to them that was lacking in specific features or functionality? If that's the case, then your collaboration and software evaluation processes may need to be reevaluated, ensuring that key stakeholders in each line of business are included so that you know exactly what their needs are. And if you had to choose a solution knowing that X or Y feature wouldn't be included for a technical or financial reason, be sure to clearly communicate your reasoning.

Did you not know a need existed in the first place, and for whatever reason they weren't comfortable approaching you about it? Take the time to understand why a department might view IT as more of a gatekeeper than a true partner. Everyone in your organization should feel comfortable coming to you if they have a technology need. If they're too frustrated or intimidated, take the time to understand why.

Do they simply feel your IT department isn't responsive or agile enough to meet their needs? Regardless of whether this one is true or not, perceptions can be powerful. If someone in, say, marketing or sales feels the need to move at hyperspeed and views IT as a series of hoops they're not interested in jumping through, you should carefully explain why your existing processes are in place. Walk them through, at a high level, the security, compliance, integration and support concerns that are essential to every piece of technology your team evaluates.

It’s difficult if not impossible for one department to fully understand the technology needs of every single department and individual within a company, especially because needs change so rapidly. Every company, industry and team is unique. In order to find the right software solutions, IT teams must remain diligent and continue to evaluate their company’s shadow IT for new ways to introduce improved innovations or technologies that will help support their existing internal customers. That’s why forging partnerships is an increasingly important aspect of IT’s role within the enterprise.

Shadow IT can and should be viewed as an opportunity for IT to work with internal business partners, not against them.

For more trends impacting IT, download our free eBook “The Future of Business Collaboration: 2015 Edition” today.

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