Why shadow IT should stay firmly in the spotlight

Digital transformation can be the difference between success and obsolescence for a 21st century organisation. Those that are thriving in the current, fast paced, environment are doing so because they are providing digital experiences that meet the ever changing demands of today’s consumers.

Organisations looking to embrace digital transformation need to be agile so that they can evolve their product and service offerings in line with consumer expectations.

However, with the current business landscape caught in an accelerating cycle of technology-oriented transformation, many organisations still continue to treat IT as a separate entity. Businesses of all sizes have found themselves battling to compete in the ultimate do or die; to embrace digital transformation or drown amongst those struggling to stay afloat, whilst fighting the tide of change.

Organisations just need to look to the banking industry as an example of digital transformation done right. Not so long ago, customers had to walk into their local branch with a bank book to access, transfer or even check on their deposits. Fast forward to the present day and consumer-led digital transformation has advanced to the online and mobile banking so many of us enjoy today. With £2.9 billion being transferred online each week and a six per cent decline in in-branch transactions, it is a prime example of digital transformation.

Yet, this digital transformation is often not as swift as many employees would like. While many IT departments get bogged down with tactical and strategic technology investment decisions, they can lose sight of the fact that employees are forging ahead regardless. Staff are taking advantage of the proliferation of easily accessible solutions and apps that can be acquired and implemented quickly, to help them undertake their day-to-day work. But whilst this could often deliver business value, it can also bring with it untold risks. IT needs to regain its ability to protect the business and at the same time become the vanguard of digital enablement and transformation.

Shadow IT is the phrase used to describe the emergence of software and applications by stealth; brought into an organisation under the radar by employees, without prior knowledge or approval of IT. Individuals, or sometime entire departments, are driven to do this in response to market dynamics that can be borne out of either market disrupters, such as more progressive competitors, or new market entrants.

Employees are increasingly using applications in their private lives – whether it be file transfer utilities such as Dropbox or communications apps such as Skype – and looking to use them in their business lives too. Whilst the IT department may shudder at the thought of rogue software infiltrating their networks, opportunity is often lurking in the shadows. In a competitive environment, IT departments can model the innovative nature of shadow IT to expand the solutions across the organisation. IT should focus on rebuilding intimacy with their internal business customers in the same way the wider organisation puts the end customer front and centre of strategic planning.

Digital transformation thrives on a culture of collaboration and in order for organisations to truly embrace IT in their digital initiatives, it is imperative they stop burying their heads in the sand. Shadow IT is here to stay. Enterprises and IT departments need to appreciate the drivers of shadow IT and the speed and agility benefits it brings to the business.

To help facilitate this, channels of communication should be established through internal digital forums, where staff can contribute ideas on new solutions and apps, as well as learn about the wider implications for security and compliance that IT have to deal with. IT can, in turn, demonstrate leadership by identifying feature-rich options that deliver business value. Through shining a light on the applications that previously resided in the shadows, the IT department can create a safe environment for experimentation and accelerated business benefit. This can remove many of the historic obstacles and help to roll out new solutions throughout the organisation as a whole.

By encouraging the trialing of new applications within a safe and controlled environment, it means IT can thoroughly test them. This not only ensures that they provide the desired business benefits, but can safeguard against a negative impact on existing systems and processes within the wider IT estate, not least breaches of regulatory compliance.

The ability of an organisation to evolve culturally is pivotal to a successful digital journey. A solid partnership between the business and the IT department means the capability to accelerate value, both to end customers and the wider business.

Kevin Davis, UK Head of Digital Transformation, SQS

Image source: Shutterstock/Stefano Tinti