In a recent Gartner blog post, Research Vice President Cindi Howson wrote about her days in the industry working in what is commonly known as “Shadow IT.” Summarily, Shadow IT describes IT systems and solutions created and implemented within organizations without explicit approval or knowledge from the IT department. This unsanctioned practice is becoming increasingly prevalent due to demands for increased workplace efficiency, the widespread availability of cloud-based solutions that can be easily implemented by the average business consumer, and what’s often perceived as IT’s slow response to the needs—or demands—of the modern user.
Tweet this: Shadow IT is becoming increasingly prevalent due to demands for increased workplace efficiency.
What’s especially interesting about Howson’s post is her description of the impasse that arose between those who utilized Shadow IT and those who attempted to manage it—a situation which “challenged almost every technology effort the business undertook.” Unfortunately this trend toward technology self-sufficiency among end users threatens to undermine not only the relationship between IT and the business, but it also the IT department’s perceived value and relevance within the business.
So, what can IT leaders do? While most IT teams react defensively and rigidly to Shadow IT, a positive, engaged and customer-driven approach will help IT better mitigate technical risks, provide end users with the tools they need to do their jobs, and maintain its standing within the company.
A Non-Malicious Problem
First, it’s important to recognize that Shadow IT doesn’t stem from a place of malicious intent. In a high-growth and high-efficiency workplace, Shadow IT arises from the need for employees to better manage the increasing demands of their jobs. Sales and marketing departments, in particular, frequently resort to Shadow IT to address urgent and mission-critical needs such as capturing leads, closing sales, managing social media, and so forth—all activities that require users to conduct business in real time, in a way that IT often cannot.
While downloading an app that allows a marketing professional to post updates to every social media account simultaneously might take mere minutes, getting such software approved by IT could take weeks or months. Unsurprisingly, employees aren’t willing to sit around waiting for IT to deliver solutions they need, so they take matters into their own hands. In an increasingly technologically advanced and specialized business environment, a slow IT department—not an insubordinate or reckless user base—is the true harbinger of Shadow IT.
The Need for a Customer-Focused Approach
In situations where Shadow IT runs rampant, IT should consider implementing a “Business-to-Consumer” (or “Provider-to-Customer”) playbook, providing employees with greater flexibility and independence in order to help identify its own gaps in service. For instance, if 100 employees subscribe to Evernote, IT might explore adding a company-wide subscription. Or, perhaps employees are utilizing unauthorized software, and the company already licenses a similar product—revealing a need for better communication or user training. IT should implement “IT Amnesty” practices whereby IT respectfully listens to employees who have circumvented IT instead of systematically dismissing their complaints. This enables IT to develop an understanding for why users went around IT in the first place—a critical first step in understanding how to satisfy employee’s needs and re-engaging with the user base.
The Importance of Social Interaction
Addressing such a nebulous problem as Shadow IT isn’t easy, which is why teams must focus on observing and encouraging social dialogue outside of traditional methods of interaction. Often, the only time the business talks to IT is when something has already been broken. This needs to change.
Tweet this: Teams must focus on social dialogue outside of traditional methods of interaction to thwart Shadow IT.
In an effort to work around IT, employees will casually ask their co-workers, not the IT department, for help regarding technical support. Unfortunately, these “walk-ups” might not only cause more problems than they solve, but are productivity drains that do not scale. IT can play an active role in not only facilitating but also learning from these conversations by developing a social community (by means of a portal, forum, or other social medium) in which they can observe employees’ questions, advice and problem-solving tactics, and use this insight to improve service delivery, training and self-service. Furthermore, IT can promote a channel through which many users can simultaneously benefit and learn from successful resolution of issues that otherwise would have been undocumented and limited in reach. Part of this process involves developing both trust and understanding that even if an employee does not possess technical certifications or training, it doesn’t mean they can’t provide valuable IT support.
A Cohesive, Collaborative Mission
A fundamental change in outlook and attitude is nothing short of vital for organizations trying to better manage Shadow IT and avoid the “Us vs. Them” mentality described in Howson’s post. Being more engaged with your users and what they’re trying to solve through their actions won’t just help mitigate the problems associated with Shadow IT, but will also help to make your IT department more responsive, flexible and innovative—and ultimately restore the relevance of your team within the business.
For further reading, see Malcolm Fry’s eBook, “Shining the Light on Shadow IT.”