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Shining a light on shadow IT with unified IT architecture

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Kzenon)

Cloud advancements make personalising workplace technology simple — installing new programs requires only a web connection and a click. But accessibility doesn’t guarantee security, and in the modern enterprise, shadow IT is becoming a liability.

Even if you’ve never heard of shadow IT, it’s likely to impact your business in the near future, if it isn’t already doing so. Shadow IT refers to the trend of employees bringing new applications to the workplace without the express knowledge or permission of the IT team. While shadow IT includes all forms of IT-related software, the most common solutions are cloud-based, like software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). These ad hoc IT solutions live in the “shadows,” keeping organisations in the dark about what information they have access to, where that information is going and how it is secured.

There are plenty of resources that offer guidelines and solutions for solving shadow IT problems with more sophisticated security and privacy programs. While many of these articles and guides are informative and serve as great jumping off points, they fail to address the symptoms of shadow IT and ignore its root issues.

At its core, shadow IT is a positive sign.

Shadow IT causes problems, but it also highlights a core truth for companies to embrace: Employees want to be involved in the organisation's technology decisions.

Modern employees are digital natives who are comfortable hunting for and installing new, innovative solutions to increase their efficiency. It’s unlikely these tech savvy employees will stop seeking out technologies to do their jobs better, especially when the unsanctioned alternatives prove valuable. IT departments must learn how to leverage this drive as a strategic advantage — before it grows into a liability.

Organisations must get ahead of the conditions that allow shadow IT to emerge — like the IT department’s approved list of solutions not meeting the requirements of business and sales teams. It’s time for leaders to evaluate the inadequacies behind shadow IT and embrace them as a wake-up call.

 A unified IT architecture transforms technology headaches into wins. 

It’s possible to encourage greater employee involvement in technology conversations while also making safe and secure digital investments. A unified IT architecture bridges the communication gap that exists between departments, acting as a solution to the core shadow IT problem. 

 Involve all departments to identify the best solutions. 

The IT department is just one facet of the organisation, so technology decisions shouldn’t be confined to it. Innovation comes from everywhere — operations, sales, marketing — and is a mindset and a culture that unified IT architecture supports. Departments must be more intune with each other so that the entire company acts as a single unit working towards technology goals — not competing forces.

But that doesn’t mean taking away any of IT’s decision making power. Instead, IT governance must be streamlined and serve to motivate enterprise-wide technological education and collaboration. That way, even if there is disagreement about aspects of an IT change, each department has the chance to weigh in and get behind the final decision.

Boost rapport by giving individuals a voice. 

To drive technological progress in the organisation, there needs to be empathy on both sides of the table. It’s easier for leaders to avoid shadow IT when all parties understand the individual user’s requirements and how to show employees that their ideas are heard. Employees need to better understand how to engage IT and express their specific requirements, while IT needs to be more agile and willing to listen.

Capturing feedback on an individual level allows employees to dream big and define the technology standards and procedures they desire and gives IT teams a clear vision of their needs. A sense of collaboration between the end-user and IT department is highly practical, making the pursuit of technology a more efficient process (a six to twelve  month evaluation period is unlikely fast enough for business departments to address their needs) without sacrificing security. And even if IT is unable to accommodate suggestions, users will appreciate the ability to come to the table with their ideas and be a part of the process.

A unified IT architecture takes IT out of the shadows. Open communication and cross-department collaboration encourages the continuation of stable and secure business innovation. It also ensures that there is no unnecessary bureaucracy stopping users and departments from innovating with their own technology choices.

Balancing innovation and stability creates technology standards for now and later.

Once all IT is out in the open, it requires guidelines and guardrails to ensure the conversations surrounding new technology remain secure, powering innovation with the least amount of risk. Employees should never rush to pursue new solutions, instead, they should consult with the experts within their IT teams when they feel there is a better alternative. Unified IT architecture creates the standards and processes necessary to review and bring on future solutions.

IT leaders must clearly communicate the standards for new software adoption in order to avoid an influx of weak, ineffective solutions. Messaging must include the dangers of using tools and technologies in the workplace where employees don’t fully understand the privacy, security and intellectual risks. Employees easily dig themselves into deep legal holes by using channels in non-approved ways (like using text or messaging apps to communicate important or confidential information). These standards are key to long-term security and preventing employees from drifting back into bad IT habits, making it critical that leaders support them with clear repercussions.

But strict standards and approval processes exist to do more than just gate ineffective or dangerous solutions. Unified IT architecture also allows organisations to bring on new communication channels and technologies as they become suitable fits. A solution may not be the best fit right now, but after careful assessment, teams can determine whether it is a priority moving forward and whether or not to keep the solution in their back pocket for future use.

IT success hinges on the participation of the entire enterprise.

As the modern workplace continues to evolve, the entire enterprise has a stake in IT. Technology drives business, and building out a unified IT architect and culture makes it easy to support strong, democratised technology investments. Agile companies put innovation in the middle of the organisation where all departments — marketing, sales, IT and operations — can have healthy, constructive conversations around technology decisions.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for technology and mistakes will happen along the way. But building out a unified IT architecture that matches your unique culture, business objectives and IT capabilities guarantees that technology investments remain valuable to every employee.

Tim James, Director of Global Services, TetraVX
Image source: Shutterstock/Kzenon