In Praise Of Shadow IT

80% of those employed by enterprises larger than 1,000 people circumvent IT to use cloud-based tools, new research says. I say let them.
8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
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When it comes to technology, I don't like to play by the rules. In fact, I'd be happy to pay for my own gear and my own software if it means I have total freedom to choose how I get my job done on a day-to-day basis. While I understand and respect the rules of the IT department for protecting the company and its assets, I often find myself suffocated by the lack of options and flexibility.

Call me a rebel, but it turns out there may be a positive side to rogue employees' distaste for submitting to corporate controls. Allowing key employees to find their own productivity tools might make for a healthier, more competitive organization. With the bulk of respondents to a recent survey suggesting they'd buy their own software in order to do their jobs better, the question for IT becomes less about security and more about not missing the next big thing.

According to a Frost & Sullivan poll, 80% of those employed by enterprises larger than 1,000 people said they circumvent the IT department to use cloud-based tools. Sometimes these employees even pay for such services out of their own pocket. Rather than punish these employees, Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal suggested letting them run free.

[Does your enterprise have an effective BYOD plan? Read BYOD: Build A Policy That Works.]

Mims interviewed a number of businesses that provide cloud services to the Fortune 500, even though those businesses did not formally sell their services to the larger firms. "Most companies are playing whack-a-mole when it comes to 'unauthorized' software like cloud-storage services and productivity software," Mims wrote. "As soon as one group is banned from using a useful tool like Dropbox, someone somewhere else starts using it. Employees just want to do their jobs, and if corporate IT isn't moving as fast as they are, well, whose fault is that?"

Much of the issue, it seems, boils down to file access. Large corporations often restrict access to files, forcing employees to load them from within the corporation's four walls directly, or through a VPN when remote. These strictures can have a negative impact on productivity. They give mobile workers plenty of impetus to put the files into places where they can be accessed more easily from a wider range of devices and apps. The number of cloud-storage solutions is vast, and competitors to OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox, Box, and others appear every day. Some of them are actually quite good.

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Mims' basic tenet is that the employees who are most apt to break the rules may also be the best at finding new tools that can scale to the entire enterprise -- a concept known as Shadow IT, Rogue IT, Bring Your Own X, and other terms. It goes far beyond the notion of BYOD to something much more organic.

"Once a shadow IT service is sufficiently popular, whoever is in charge usually conducts a formal analysis of the provider's security measures and compliance with appropriate regulations," Mims said. "As long as everything checks out, what started as an employee end-run around their own IT staff becomes institutionalized."

Giving some employees this type of freedom is not without risk, of course. Other employees may find out and adopt an "If they can, why can't I?" attitude. Further, large corporations can't put the company and its data at risk simply to satisfy the rebellious attitude of its workers. The key, as with everything, is striking the right balance.

What do you think? Should some employees be given freedoms not enjoyed by all as long as it means they eventually contribute to the greater good? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Please add your own thoughts in the comments below.

Mobile, cloud, and BYOD blur the lines between work and home, forcing IT to envision a new identity and access management strategy. Also in the The Future Of Identity issue of InformationWeek: Threats to smart grids are far worse than generally believed, but tools and resources are available to protect them. (Free registration required.)

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