Embrace the shadow: Realising the benefits of shadow IT

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Enterprise software set up to satisfy the needs of a business aims to deliver a consistent, standardised approach. However, in many cases standardisation has led to businesses deploying inflexible, bureaucratic, non-intuitive software applications. By contrast, technology systems and solutions built and used by business units in enterprises without explicit organisational approval from the IT function – known as shadow IT – are seen as fresh and new.

Traditional criticism

Traditional enterprise IT departments place a premium on control and centralisation, and don’t like end users going behind their backs, especially when it implies that what IT provides is not good enough. The most common complaints are that it:

  • Creates inconsistency in business logic and approach, as different parts of the organisation may end up using different IT services and processes that do not necessarily integrate.
  • Adds extra cost to the business, as the business has to pay for its traditional services as well as shadow IT, and these generally are not under the same budget or subject to the same scrutiny in terms of costs/benefits.
  • Creates inefficiencies, as the business needs to support more than one service, which can lead to duplicate support and system integration costs.
  • Increases security risks, as data held in shadow IT services may not be managed, maintained and secured in the same way corporate data is.
  • Constitutes a barrier to enhancing IT services, as end users, satisfied by shadow IT, may not feel the need to push for better services from the IT department.

The benefits to users

End users often credit shadow IT as central to driving innovation, business transformation, and increased productivity. By embracing shadow IT, enterprises can realise benefits, including:

  • Increased productivity. Shadow IT provides a better user experience that allows employees to perform more effectively, and this drives user adoption.
  • Innovation. Shadow IT solutions fill a gap between what IT currently supports and what an end user needs.
  • Ability to attract talent. End users are generally more engaged and productive when they can choose their own systems. Therefore, allowing shadow IT helps attract and retain high-performing talent.
  • Ability to attract talent. End users are generally more engaged and productive when they can choose their own systems. Therefore, allowing shadow IT helps attract and retain high-performing talent.

 How businesses can manage shadow IT and reap its benefits

Enterprises must be able to keep pace with today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, and that requires taking advantage of the cloud/SaaS revolution. It also requires a more collaborative approach across the organisation, recognising that technology innovation can no longer be the preserve of a single business department. Many methods can be used to pragmatically manage or channel shadow IT:

  • Training around BYOD and application/cloud services – Training and talking to users is the most important step in managing shadow IT effectively. This involves helping users understand the risks, work with them to mitigate these, and inculcate a culture of trust and personal responsibility.
  • Training around BYOD and application/cloud services – Training and talking to users is the most important step in managing shadow IT effectively. This involves helping users understand the risks, work with them to mitigate these, and inculcate a culture of trust and personal responsibility.
  • Network monitoring – IT must not be in the dark about which apps are being used and, most importantly, what data is being sent into the cloud. Vendors such as Microsoft and Cisco have identified this requirement, and now offer solutions such as Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) and Elastica Audit. These solutions collect data from all network devices, such as firewalls, in order to analyse traffic and provide a detailed picture of the cloud apps employees are actually using. This allows the business to effectively manage and monitor app usage and data flows.
  • Shadow IT amnesty – IT should attempt to talk to end users by offering an internal amnesty, bringing shadow IT into the light. This will allow IT to start a dialog, inviting end users to talk about why they require particular shadow IT solutions and existing enterprise systems are not up to the task.

How embracing shadow IT led to 43 per cent OPEX savings for one company

A global education company was facing rapidly escalating costs for its video-conferencing (VC) solutions, which were a critical part of its business environment. It had been using the same VC tool for the past 20 years. Employees were asking the provider for increasing amounts of optional functionality, which led to a very complex, fragmented and costly global contract. Users who considered the tool unsuitable for their needs found new video-conferencing solutions through shadow IT.

The company engaged with end users through interviews, polls and forums to identify their VC needs and real-world use cases, while offering an amnesty for shadow IT. Research and employee feedback pinpointed a specific tool that not only met business needs, but that a large number of teams were already using – and even paying for separately, unknown to IT.

The company added the new VC solution to its existing platform, integrating it with the company portal, help desk and email. Training was provided on the solution through instructor-led sessions, quick-help articles and regular open engagement on the company’s internal forum.

Embracing shadow IT and adding the VC solution to the corporate platform brought annual OPEX savings of 43 per cent by eliminating duplicate payments and unnecessary services. It also simplified internal processes.

Conclusion

Embracing shadow IT and listening to employees’ needs can unlock large-scale savings, and the earlier IT engages with users, the sooner costs can be reduced. While not all tools work for all users, it is still likely that some tools emerging from shadow IT will become the solution of choice for the whole business.

Greg Smith, Michael Papadopoulos, Andreas Macek, Noémie Bristol-Courgeon and Elliot Gilford, Arthur D. Little
Image source: Shutterstock/Kzenon