Summary: Shadow IT–a term used to describe unapproved IT systems and solutions used inside organizations–is growing rapidly. Learn a few common misconceptions surrounding the topic, why it’s so hard to control, and what your company should be doing about it.
A growing trend, “Shadow IT” is a term used to describe IT systems and solutions built and/or used inside organizations without the approval of the IT department. This could include anything from employees emailing spreadsheets back and forth to entire departments licensing third-party, cloud solutions behind IT’s back.
While the usage varies, one thing is certain: Shadow IT is growing.
Why does this happen? Why are employees bypassing the IT department with greater frequency? While this article explains a few reasons why Shadow IT happens, it usually boils down to a simple problem: The demand for IT solutions outweighs the supply. When that happens, employees seek out their own solutions.
Now, why is this a problem? Since Shadow IT usually happens on the sneak, IT departments don’t know where (or how much) it’s happening. This means they can’t monitor the spread of company data, and therefore–cannot secure any data involved in Shadow IT. What risks does this create? Steven Lowe, Founder/CEO of Innovator, LLC, sums it up nicely below:
“There are two risks from shadow IT:
1. Critical company information floating around outside of managed channels risks data inaccuracy, loss, and leaks. ‘Home-grown’ data systems may produce data that is inaccurate, lacking integration with IT reference data sources. Sometimes this may not matter, but sometimes it might. Mis-sending an email with the company payroll data attached as an unprotected spreadsheet may be a big deal, and it may not. It all depends on the data and the organization.
2. Critical company information being shared only within a closed group risks missed opportunities and omissions. Data (and software) that IT doesn’t know about cannot be used to enhance organizational knowledge and processes. If IT doesn’t know the data exists, they can’t take advantage of it, and the company may miss strategic opportunities.”
All that being said, here’s the big question: How can businesses know whether or not they even have a Shadow IT problem, considering it’s practiced on the sneak? What signs and signals should IT leaders watch for to identify business users and departments practicing Shadow IT? While I’m sure there are more, I’ve rounded up 5 of the biggest signs that Shadow IT is alive and well in your company.
Every new tech trend comes with varying levels of acceptance among IT departments. When the web first rolled around, some recognized its value and jumped on board. Others sat back and waited. I’ve noticed similar responses to the recent major trends, like mobile and cloud computing.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you which trends to adopt and which to ignore. After all, every company has different needs.
However, I’d like to take a step beyond the recent trends, and focus instead on the new “realities” brought about by these trends. What’s the difference between a trend and a reality? While you can choose whether or not to adopt a trend, realities aren’t up for debate. They’re happening, whether you like it or not. You can’t sit back and see what others are doing. You must adapt.
It’s a growing problem: End users are bypassing the IT department, and opting for third-party, cloud-based solutions instead. How prevalent is this issue? According to a recent survey, 71% of organizations say employees are using apps not sanctioned by IT.
Of course, this opens the door for security problems. How can the IT department monitor or secure company data if they don’t even know where it’s stored? How can they avoid security breaches if employees are carrying confidential data around on their personal devices?
How can you address this issue? The automatic reaction for some is full-on war. They want to ban third-party apps, outlaw personal devices, and restrict internet usage. After all, these employees are putting corporate data at risk. They must be stopped! Right?
While I understand the mentality, full-on war is rarely a good approach. Treating users like the bad guys and implementing heavy restrictions will not only waste your time, it will alienate your employees. After all, it doesn’t address the root of the issue: Why are employees bypassing IT in the first place? Do they enjoy breaking the rules? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe they do it because they feel like there’s no other choice.
If you want to control the rise of Shadow IT in your organization, first understand the cause. Learn why employees feel the need to circumvent IT in the first place…and then you’ll better understand how to control (or even harness) it.
So, why do end users bypass the IT department? What can you do about it? To help you answer those questions, we posed them to a few experts in the area, and have compiled their answers below. Here are 7 of the most common reasons why end users bypass the IT department:
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The concept of “Shadow IT” is becoming more and more prevalent. Tired of waiting around for the IT department, end users are now buying and using SaaS services without the IT department’s knowledge or approval. IT departments are scrambling to adjust, driven by the fear of being bypassed altogether. The solution: Give users a development platform that meets their needs, while giving the IT department control over data and user access.
Many IT departments have developed a reputation of being slow and difficult. They make users jump through hoops and then take months to deliver requested solutions. The business users often feel like IT stands in their way, or even holds them back.
The problem is, business users now have other options. Many are bypassing IT altogether and using unsanctioned SaaS options to accomplish their goals. If IT can’t (or won’t) deliver solutions in a timely manner, they find another way.
IT departments have no choice: They must become more agile and responsive to the business user’s needs, or risk being bypassed.
The question is…how? How can a slow IT department become more agile and responsive?
Suppose 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:
It’s funny, really. We hear all of this talk about “Shadow IT”, like it’s some big new problem. The fact is, “Shadow IT” is not a new trend. It’s an old problem with a new name.
“Shadow IT” is nothing more than employees finding ways around the IT department. This usually happens when the IT department isn’t meeting the user’s needs in a timely manner.
In the past, it involved spreadsheets. If the IT department couldn’t meet the users needs fast enough, they turned to spreadsheets. Users found all sorts of uses for spreadsheets, creating forms, reports, analytical applications, and more. The fact is, spreadsheets were the original “Shadow IT”.
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