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Nancy Powaga
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November 25, 2019

Shedding Light on Shadow IT

shutterstock_589482413Recently, we posted about why IT security departments love no-code platforms. Today, we’ll dive into a related topic: shadow IT. Let’s start by defining the term. Shadow IT, aka stealth IT or client IT, are technology systems built and used by departments or teams outside of an organization's official IT department. Importantly, shadow IT projects do not receive an initial blessing from IT nor are they deployed by IT.

The term conjures images of shady actors, nefarious doings, and bad intentions. It should be noted, however, that while shadow IT is a controversial topic, the reality of the practice is far more nuanced than many first think.

Good intentions

People generally don’t start shadow IT projects because they disrespect the IT department or want to cause trouble. We live in a digital world. As a result, more non-technical workers are becoming tech-savvy through osmosis. They pick up new tech trends here, read about digital transformation there. They dream up all the ways that new software and hardware can make their jobs easier and more productive.

Often, this tinkering moves beyond daydreams and into the office where people outside of the IT team make moves to improve their work via technology. Think marketers researching and purchasing marketing automation software or hoteliers downloading project workforce management software to communicate with staff.

And while these motions might be in conflict with their IT department’s road map, the intentions behind shadow IT comes from an earnest, entrepreneurial place. People who do the work know the work best. The non-technical workers pushing for their own tech solutions have unique insights into their job's pain points, and can quickly recognize a solution’s ability to tackle problems.

Cause for concern

However, good intentions should not to minimize an IT department’s worries around shadow IT. Information technology departments are subject matter experts as well. Their concerns around unofficial technology programs are directly related to the department's areas of expertise, including:

Compliance. IT needs to ensure that solutions are compliant with industry standards. Are teams following license agreements? Are users correctly installing and using encrypted devices?   

Security. This is a no-brainer for IT teams. Job one is to make sure that all tech used within their company is unbreachable and private so that proprietary information remains internal.

Reliability. IT makes sure that systems are suited for the long haul. Tools need to stay live, functional, and updated. They need to scale for the enterprise. 

Compatibility. Similarly, enterprise companies often rely on various systems. These large companies have powerful and diverse IT stacks. There’s a danger that shadow projects will not be compatible with legacy software and tools.

Redundancies. When tech projects happen below the board, communication tends to breakdown. Time and money are wasted when departments overlap work on the similar – or even identical – solutions.

User-first IT

So how do companies wed the goals of non-technical workers and the concerns of IT departments? Let’s start by reframing the concept of shadow IT. Let's instead think of the practice as user-first IT. IT departments can empower non-technical workers to explore and iterate on new tech solutions – all while staying within proper IT-defined guardrails. This arrangement will inspire company-wide agility while maintaining centralized, IT-sanctioned approaches to business technology.

One way to implement this change is to embed technical experts within non-technical team. For instance, many marketing teams now have a MarTech division led by IT folks who also have marketing acumen.

No-code platforms represent another opportunity which enables non-technical employees to develop workplace applications without writing code. Using this approach, workers of all stripes can build applications uniquely suited to their needs. Meanwhile, IT remains the centralized point of control for this no-code technology, setting guardrails on which teams and individuals can create. In other words, security and governance remain safely in the hands of IT experts. 

In short, we see a happy future between user-driven technology adoption and IT departments. No agility lost, no security compromised.

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