Shadow IT Proves Tech Leaders Need to Shift Their Focus

By: Richard Berger

April 2, 2015

When the story broke a few weeks back about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and host server for all of her email correspondence while serving as Secretary of State, the political pundits went to town. After all, a potential presidential candidate circumventing government regulations is a story too juicy to pass up. But the scandal also highlights an important strategic issue for many organizations – namely, the rise of consumer-friendly cloud technologies that have the ability to make work more efficient, but exist outside the control of corporate IT departments. Often referred to as “Shadow IT,” the use of these systems or solutions without company approval has sparked a set of security challenges many organizations are starting to address.

For CIOs and corporate IT teams, as the media coverage makes clear, shadow IT is a top concern and a trend that speaks to the changing nature of the business technology environment. (Check out our recent InSights article for a more in-depth discussion of the impact of changing technology on the C-suite.)

Here are a few of my top reads that help demystify this topic and provide some guidance on how IT departments can adapt:

  • The Clinton case is simply shadow IT on a grand scale. The truth is that any of us who use personal email for business purposes is probably circumventing company IT policy – and many of us take advantage of the convenience of Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft Hotmail services to do this on a daily basis. (Zdnet – Hillary Clinton takes shadow IT mainstream)
  • The pressure on business units to weave technology into their offerings is typically enormous, but centralized IT often isn’t up to the task. Shadow IT is surviving and flourishing because of this disconnect. (CIO – Why the Enterprise Cloud Needs Shadow IT to Succeed)
  • Refocusing IT on enabling business unit productivity, creating a transparent process for vetting technologies and becoming better partners to the business can help IT teams re-secure the IT environment while helping to improve business efficiency. (Forbes – 3 Ways For CIOs To Fight ‘Shadow IT’ — Without Bloodshed)
  • To some this re-focusing will take the form of moving faster – faster hardware/software evaluation and implementation, using the cloud to meet infrastructure needs quickly and being proactive in reaching out to business units before the use of shadow IT creates a problem. (InformationWeek – Shadow IT: 8 Way to Cope)
  • Lastly, companies could also go with the tried and true “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” answer to the shadow IT challenge. There’s a reason employees adopt these services to begin with – they make their jobs easier. IT departments might benefit from looking to services such as Android for Work to support employees’ quest for greater efficiency. (VentureBeat – A CIO’s best allies in the fight against ‘shadow IT’ are the shadow IT vendors)

At the end of the day, as with most user-generated trends, IT faces an uphill battle to put the shadow IT genie back in the bottle. But as the experts in these articles suggest, embracing the root cause of why employees move to shadow IT could help technology leaders reconnect with business objectives and become better partners to the enterprise as a whole.

What techniques is your team using to adjust to today’s technological realities? Where could they stand to improve?