Shadow IT: An Opportunity More Than A Threat

Shadow IT

Nowadays we are all IT consumers. The increase in BYOD and subscription-based cloud services is great for users in their domestic lives, but an increased knowledge of IT and its potential has produced very high expectations that are often not met by their business IT systems.

Users think, “If I can’t get it now, I’m going to start signing up to services.” They want easy access and we find that most people, whilst concerned about security, still use personal Dropbox accounts, MailChimp, Salesforce and other cloud and software as a service (SaaS) products for work. According to a recent Frost & Sullivan survey, more than 80 percent of respondents admit to using non-approved tools.

The unauthorised use of these tools, labelled ‘shadow IT,’ is often considered a risk by IT managers who are trying to control the data flow and interaction between systems as it can lead to security breaches, data silos and extra costs. But employees are not using these apps and systems for personal gain or misguided reasons; they are using them because they allow them to do their job more easily and efficiently. This says a lot about a business’ processes and systems, when employees favour apps like Dropbox or Salesforce over those designed for their working environment.

Almost half of the Frost & Sullivan report respondents stated they were ‘familiar with the non‐approved software and therefore more comfortable using it’ as the primary reason for using shadow apps. The problem is that most business IT systems are designed for the developer, not the user, making them unnecessarily complex for most workers. Shadow or unauthorised tools present an alternative that is much quicker and easier to use. If these apps are making it easier for employees to do their jobs, then they are actually benefiting the business, improving productivity and efficiency (and ultimately profitability).

So whilst a lot of best-practice thinking would dictate the elimination of shadow IT, I argue that companies should see it as an opportunity to make their own processes more user-friendly. Increasingly, they should also be looking to incorporate these powerful tools into their existing systems so they cease to be shadow and become legitimate. As the old saying goes: If you can’t beat them, join them.

This requires businesses to strike the balance between flexibility and control. At a user conference in London in April, many of my customers reinforced this point, saying that they saw the value of using consumer tools at work, but they wanted greater oversight to allay any security fears. It is possible to give users what they want now whilst still retaining a level of management over the systems in use: through process. Effective processes allow IT departments to oversee and orchestrate activity between this patchwork of different existing products whilst retaining the ease of use employees expect.

There are services that can bring disparate systems together into a business automation platform centred around SharePoint and Office 365. These cloud services allow customers to incorporate tools like Dropbox, Salesforce and Yammer into their established IT systems, allowing maximum functionality for the users whilst maintaining a controlled environment. Their aim is to be easy and quick to deploy and use, just like consumer IT products.

Successful IT departments recognise that their role is shifting from developing and writing applications to governance and orchestration. This requires a much greater understanding and prioritisation of the needs of users (and ultimately the business objectives) over the developers. Those who have adjusted accordingly are ensuring that business operations are as streamlined and effective as possible.

Christian Smith

Christian Smith is Senior Vice President for Global Sales at Nintex. Christian Smith brings more than 20 years of experience in technology sales and marketing to Nintex. He has been directly involved in the creation and growth of several SaaS businesses as a direct founder, executive or advisor, and has a well-earned reputation for being a multi-disciplined, analytical, high-energy and process-focused transformational leader. As senior vice president of global sales at Nintex, Christian is scaling Nintex’s sales capacity and channel enablement as the company capitalises on its rapid growth as the leader in workflow for everyone. Christian holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Washington where he studied communications, advertising, marketing, and business.