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The Secret World of “Shadow IT”

From Google Docs to Dropbox to Slack, cloud-based productivity apps are allowing employees to work from anywhere, get more done and collaborate more effectively in real time.  And unlike the old days when it took a team of IT professionals weeks or months to implement new software, most new-generation apps can be up and running with the swipe of a credit card.

Yet, while the convenience and power of these tools is a welcome improvement over the old days of desktop software, it creates an awkward situation where individuals or even entire departments within an organization might start using cloud apps for mission-critical functions without the knowledge or approval of their IT department.   

This phenomenon of “Shadow IT” has rapidly evolved from a nuisance to a serious challenge. A recent survey found 80% of organizations have critical data stored on unauthorized platforms, and are so dependent on shadow IT that getting rid of it would seriously impair core business functions.  

So what are organizations to do?   On the positive side, organizations should:

  • Let your process define your tools – If there are no standard, documented processes for what your organization does, then it’s difficult to judge whether one app will help you work more effectively than another. Departments should take time to define and document critical processes in a technology-agnostic way, then enlist IT as a partner in finding the best tools for the job.

  • Don’t leave it to performers to solve their own tech problems – Individuals and teams rarely adopt shadow IT for fun: rather, they are motivated by real or perceived shortcomings in the organization’s approved tools.  IT must recognize that business needs are too complex and varied for one provider (Microsoft, Oracle, SAP) to satisfy them all, and work with colleagues to proactively find and evaluate new productivity tools in anticipation of demand.       

  • Don’t leave it to IT to say “no” – Adopt a suggestion and review process where managers can make the business case for new tools – perhaps an annual, biannual or quarterly meeting where new software requests are reviewed by a panel that includes, but is not limited to, IT.

  • Make sure your strategic decision-makers have at least basic technical literacy – Tech is too important to organizations these days for leaders to be ignorant about the platforms being used.  While we’re not saying to make your CIO the CEO, the CEO should at least be able to intelligently discuss technology and its uses with your IT heads.

  • Don’t punish teams that are caught using Shadow IT – Instead, invite them to have a candid discussion of where the existing technology stack is falling short, and why they felt the need to go rogue.  They might offer helpful process improvements or make a case for embracing a new platform. And even if the organization decides to shut down the shadow platform, having an open and honest discussion can smooth the transition and give IT the opportunity to find ways to meet the underlying need within the approved technology stack.

If your organization is dealing with these issues, or any other learning or productivity-related challenges, please contact Sonata Learning.

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Emil Heidkamp is the founder and senior learning strategist at Sonata Learning.  He works with NGOs, corporations and government agencies to implement training and knowledge management initiatives impacting thousands of learners in over 50 countries.

2018-11-05T14:22:55+00:00 Sonata Notes|