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3 ways IT causes Shadow IT (and how to fix it)

EducationSuppose your car’s “check engine” light turned on. What do you do? Do you take it to the mechanic and ask him to find the problem? Or do you ask him to remove the light?

Of course, you fix the problem. Everybody knows the light isn’t the problem–it’s a sign of a larger problem.

I mention this example because it ties in nicely to the growing “Shadow IT” problem. For those unfamiliar with the issue, Shadow IT is the term used to describe IT systems and solutions built within an organization without the IT department’s knowledge or approval. The IT department cannot control these systems, which creates all types of data security problems.

CIOs and IT managers around the world are asking the same question: How can we stop Shadow IT? I’ve seen some companies try threats. Others try to limit procurement budgets. Unfortunately, these types of approaches rarely work.

Why? As it turns out, they’re asking the wrong question. Asking “How can we stop Shadow IT” is the equivalent of asking a mechanic to remove your “check engine” light.

Why? Shadow IT is not the problem. Like a “check engine” light, Shadow IT is a sign of much larger problems. When business users aren’t satisfied with the services and support they receive from IT, they look for other solutions. Users aren’t maliciously trying to harm the company. They just aren’t getting what they need from the IT department.

So, if you want to fix the problem, you must first identify what’s causing the problem. Rather than asking “How can we stop Shadow IT?”, perhaps IT departments should be asking, “How are we causing Shadow IT?” Why would end users want to bypass the IT department in the first place? To help identify the problem, I’ve created a short list of the most common ways IT departments unwittingly create Shadow IT:

1. IT is too slow

Now, I understand…your IT department might be overworked and understaffed. Maybe you’re working as fast as you can, but you can’t possibly complete all of the projects in a timely manner. While that might be true, it doesn’t change the situation. If IT moves too slow for the business, they will find alternative options.

For instance, suppose the sales department wants to roll out a new product in 3 months. If the IT department can’t have the necessary applications built for another 6 months, what happens? Rather than lose out on 3 months worth of sales, the sales department will likely find another way to get what they need.

The point is this: When IT becomes the bottleneck in an organization, Shadow IT is sure to follow. The big question: How can you speed up your slow IT department? If that’s a question your company is asking, here’s a story you should read: It’s about a 2-person IT staff that is so productive, they might put larger IT staffs to shame.

2. IT is stuck in the past

In the past, IT departments controlled technology because it was scarce, and hard for business users to obtain and use. Unfortunately, this created what many describe as a “culture of no” among IT departments. These IT departments were more likely to deny user requests than attempt to help solve their problems.

Those days are gone. IT departments are no longer the only ones with access to technology. The problem is, some IT departments haven’t received the memo. They still act like they’re the only option. They’re quick to say “No”, and slow to help.

Now, I’m not suggesting that IT departments say “Yes” to every request. But, IT must understand that they’re no longer the only option. Instead, IT must adopt a “can-do” attitude, and try to help the user solve their problems. When the only thing users hear from IT is “No” or “You can’t do that”, they will look for other options.

3. IT does not deliver modern solutions

Maybe your company is tied to aging software. Maybe your IT department lacks the tools or the skills to deliver modern features. Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever the reason, if your IT department delivers old and outdated solutions, users will find modern options.

The problem is, user expectations are higher than they’ve ever been. Thanks in large part to the rise in mobile apps and SaaS options, they’ve become accustomed to modern interfaces, features, and capabilities. When your business apps don’t offer the features and capabilities they’ve come to expect, many will find other options.

I’ll admit, IT is in a tough spot. In many instances, IT departments want to offer modern features just as much as the users want them…but they’re held back by outdated systems. Unfortunately, this burden is placed solely on the IT department. They must find new and innovative ways to provide modern solutions, or risk alienating their users.

Wrap up

While Shadow IT can create all sorts of problems, it is not the underlying problem. Shadow IT is a symptom that occurs when business users aren’t satisfied with the solutions and service offered by their IT department. If your company is fighting Shadow IT, don’t try to fight it head on. You must first identify the root of the problem. Why do users feel like they have to bypass IT in the first place? Only then can you hope to address the issue.

Need help?

Do you need help eliminating Shadow IT from your company? We’d love to help. Our web application development platform, m-Power, gives both IT and the users what they want: First, it gives users the tools they need to build their own self-service applications. Second, it lets the IT department control the data, rights, and user access. Departments can build the reports, BI apps, mobile apps, or any other custom app they need, and the IT department still controls the data. Everybody wins! To try m-Power for yourself, sign up for a free trial.