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Shadow IT: 8 Ways To Cope

If you're sick and tired of Shadow IT in your organization, you're not alone. Here are some coping mechanisms to help you get a handle on things.
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(Image: LoggaWiggler via Pixabay)

(Image: LoggaWiggler via Pixabay)

If your employees and business departments are bypassing internal IT resources to acquire their own systems, software, and other technologies without your explicit permission, take heart: You are not alone.

For many organizations, so-called Shadow IT grew out of pure necessity, as increasingly tech-savvy employees sought out their own solutions to specific line-of-business problems.

Some of you may remember a time when IT departments had the ability to fully control and dictate almost all the technology decisions made within an organization. Over the years, that vice-like grip has loosened considerably. There are multiple reasons that this has happened. For one, new technologies come to market at an alarming rate. Oftentimes, the latest and greatest is immediately seen as valuable by a particular business unit. Most IT organizations are not structured to offer new IT solutions at such a rapid pace.

Secondly, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon that has hit enterprises in recent years created a new way for employees to make their own choices about the mobile hardware and software they are using for business purposes. Lastly, cloud computing and related SaaS and PaaS applications have created a new avenue for employees and entire departments to easily circumvent internal IT.

All too often, we hear of in-house IT personnel being completely in the dark about what's happening with technology in their own organizations.

Your natural instinct might be to try and clamp down on Shadow IT because you see it as a threat to your career. Rather than fight it, it's high time that IT decision-makers admit our shortcomings and learn to address the reasons that Shadow IT has cropped up in the first place. Your department no longer holds all the cards in terms of servers, endpoint devices, or applications being used in your enterprise. At the same time, there are plenty of ways to change the how the IT department operates, so that you can better address business needs. Doing so might reduce -- and possibly even eliminate -- shadow IT altogether.

In the long run, you might think Shadow IT is a terrible idea. While short-term gains can be achieved, it leaves the entire organization at risk. Take an audit, and you'll likely find duplicated technologies, security risks, inefficiencies, lack of expandability, and an overall loss of a strategic IT roadmap moving forward.

On the following pages, we give you eight ways for IT to cope with the individuals and departments that practice Shadow IT. These coping methods can help you accomplish the following:

  • Identify weaknesses within IT that caused the need for Shadow IT in the first place.
  • Reestablish relationships with departments and individuals that regard the IT department as a hindrance to their job.
  • Reinstitute the IT department as the single gatekeeper for technology solutions in the workplace.

If you’re sick and tired of shadow IT, share your pain and let us know whether you think these coping mechanisms will help you. Do you have additional suggestions, or stories on how you handled a recent shadow IT issue? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the ... View Full Bio

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Cloudywithachance
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Cloudywithachance,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/24/2015 | 6:42:07 PM
Shadow IT empowers departments
I like the idea of empowering each department to research and buy their own specialized software and hardware, and maintain it also to some extent.  Inviting the IT department to consult and recommend final products is always best.  The rub comes when the department has deployed or attempted to deploy their own solution either without the consultation or blessing of the IT department, and then demands that we fix it. Then, as far as we are concerned, they can get rolled into our schedule at our convenience. This can cause friction, especially if they miss deadlines. Luckily, my company has some pretty smart, self-sufficient employees and the CIO backs us, so that doesn't happen too often.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
3/22/2015 | 1:29:47 AM
Early Facebook was 'Shadow IT,' wasn't it?
The creation of Facebook at Harvard was shadow IT at its best, wasn't it? We can't define shadow IT as good or bad but simply that is now going to be with us for the foreseeable future. I don't think the urge to purge is a healthy one and I don't think it can be allowed to run free. When it starts to both depend on and expose corporate data, it's time for IT supervision, limits and control to come into play in the degree that the situation warrants. Judgement calls will be called for.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
3/21/2015 | 10:37:28 PM
Re: All great, timeless advice, but why is it so hard?
@stratustician: It doesn't help at all. Most people who have had an experience are swapped out of a project if they are seen not fit fir that particular project, even if its mid way and this causes delay in hoisting the project and delivering the application to the end user. Most leaderships fail when sessions of employees are under a huge project because so many people get swapped because they are incompetent, which is what only the management thinks, and engineering managers have to deal with all sorts of shortcomings for the project because of this swapping. I've been there, I've done that.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
3/21/2015 | 10:34:02 PM
Re: All great, timeless advice, but why is it so hard?
@broadway: Most people who are new to the industry say they have had bad experience for the first couple of years because nobody knows how to manage freshers, only because neiher do they know too little, nor do they know too much. This creates a black hole of management where managers are baffled on whether they should treat freshers as a general run-of-the-mill or should they allow them(freshers) to specialize and excel in something. Private life for me has been so bad for the first couple of years.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
3/21/2015 | 12:09:10 AM
Re: All great, timeless advice, but why is it so hard?
I think that's a big if: the "right" support from leadership. I think it would have to be active support from leadership. Passive support --- the pat on the back in person and letting them dangle in the breeze in reality --- would leave young professionals to being outmaneuvered by higher ups with fewer ideas but far more office politics savvy.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
3/20/2015 | 3:05:55 PM
Re: Shadow IT: 8 Ways To Cope
I agree with the idea of adopting a broader definition of 'Shadow IT' itself and a broader look at how to handle and it as well.  Some people are focusing  on the idea of big deployments being done by marketing or finance that bypass IT, and these do exist, but there's a lot more to it than that. Remember, IT has evolved to be responsible for anything/everything relating to technology - I have a friend who's responisble for his company's electronic labellers because they charge via USB. So, you could consider anything at all tech related that doesn't pass through IT or come through IT's budget to be 'Shadow IT'. Someone sending those e-mails Somedude8 describes via a personal device that hasn't gone through an official BYOD program could be considered 'Shadow IT'. Considering that, Andrew's points about looking at this holistically and at the root causes for your business make even more sense.


Hand in hand with that, I do think there's room for a more grey area between 'allow' and 'deny' here. First of all, do we really think the CIO alone should be responsible for all this stuff, forever - what about the idea of a seperate 'digital' officer and department that's part marketing, part IT that shoulders some of those projects? What about picking key areas where other departments get free reign over their projects as long as they adhere to guidelines set by IT (like the reverse of Andrew's budget suggestion), so you can save your budget and manpower for stuff you'd rather be doing? I thought you might go into a little more detail about how to establish these thoroughfares for communication and collaboration, Andrew, not just that you should. The general tips for bolstering IT mentality and processes are nice, but there's an extra step needed there to tie them directly to this problem.
pfretty
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pfretty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/20/2015 | 1:47:55 PM
New approach
Part of avoiding shadow IT is to set the stage for better IT-LOB partnerships. An Innovation culture is one primary way to succeed. However rather than just enabling innovation, IT needs to lead the way by establishing true IT-business partnerships. Innovative businesses view IT as an engine for strategic growth, not a cost center, so CIOs must focus on creating and maintaining strong peer-to-peer relationships with LOB executives. Peter Fretty, IDG blogger working on behalf of CSC.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
3/20/2015 | 1:09:49 PM
Re: All great, timeless advice, but why is it so hard?
I don't think it matters too much where these folks sit in the hierarchy as long as they are part of the project and have the right support from leadership. No one will be able to swap out the folks who have the experience working with the company's environment just for new ideas. The trick is to integrate the old ways with new ways of enabling the business.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
3/20/2015 | 7:50:17 AM
Re: Where Should I Begin...
@Tony A, thank you for identifying the many pitfalls that can create a problem. I agree these pitfalls are very real and that's why I am always in favor of the knowledge, expertise, experience and insight of IT to be at the fore forth.

I feel that there are competing forces in the market. For instance, a SaaS provider such as Salesforce has achieved the economies of scale and can provide a medium sized business with a service that is cost-effective and the risk of vendor disappearance is pretty low. In-house specialization is good but, if the market has a player with the economies of scale as well as specialization then partnering with the player becomes extremely tempting. 

Another example of economies of scale and specialization trumping specialization in isolation is on this very page. For instance, universities are supposed to be the providers of expert information, however, after reading this article and your insight -- it seems that spending one hour on this page is more valuable then, spending an hour in a university class setting.   
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
3/20/2015 | 7:05:21 AM
Re: Like points 1 and 2
@Andrew, well said IT should "try and reclaim as much of that gatekeeper status as possible". Looking inwards, it would be nice if IT continues to act as a military unit and protect the organization from treats.

And looking outwards at the market, it would also be great if IT becomes a knowledge/information provider. For instance, IT could provide the information based on our expertise that ABC cloud provider is excellent in terms of security and is in-line with the requirement of the organization while, XYZ cloud provider is not too good with security and their product is not in-line with the business requirements. 
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