How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Shadow IT

It’s another Interop New York blog, this time based on a keynote by Steve Comstock, Vice President of Site and IT Infrastructure at CBS Interactive, called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Shadow IT.” Man, I love cult film references.   Steve’s premise was that Shadow IT rather than being a bad thing, has created greater opportunities for corporate IT’s customers to adopt products that better support their business needs. And that, instead of focusing on the exclusionary aspect of Shadow IT, IT should use it as the opportunity to generate conversations, learn the business challenges, and become business partners.

Shadow IT is nothing new

I think many of us remember the origins of Shadow IT in the early 2000s but Steve covered some great, and humorous, examples of how Shadow IT actually started in the late 1990s, with email forwarding, and has since morphed over time:

  • Filtermania –a common illness whose symptoms include the excessive use of filters to forward email to a third party email provider and the blind cc’ing sent email to a third party email provider.
  • Fileserveritis – a common illness whose symptoms include the building of a server to host important departmental documents, music, videos, and internet cat pictures. Typically has no backups or ACL rules applied.
  • Wifluenza – a common illness who symptoms are the connection of a wireless router to a corporate network without any corporate knowledge. Typically, unencrypted and unauthenticated.
  • Clickthroughanosis – a common illness where a credit card and the ability to click on an agreement (no reading necessary) will start any service. No need to check encryption or data storage rules. Exacerbated by mobile devices.

It makes you think

But think again, think beyond the history of Shadow IT itself. While these might appear to be business colleagues deliberately flouting IT procedure and protocol, through a different lens it’s business colleagues doing what they need to do (with technology) to help them be more productive or to get their job done. An alternative perspective that doesn’t see it as the flagrant breaking, avoidance, or circumvention of IT rules but rather the use of creativity when IT supply fails to meet business demand. Albeit often without the required governance or security considerations to protect business operations.   But, as Steve so articulately stated in a throwaway quote: “My IT conversations with business partners used to be like awkward first dates. We couldn’t converse.” It’s unsurprising that corporate IT organizations have struggled to fully understand the wants and needs of business colleagues, and that business colleagues have not understood the need for, and benefits of, IT governance and security.

Shadow IT Steve’s way

As per the title of Steve’s keynote, Shadow IT needs a new approach from corporate IT organizations. That IT should use the discovery of Shadow IT as a way to start better conversations with business partners, and colleagues, rather than as a launchpad for a fight or witch hunt.   Let’s no longer look at Shadow IT as the product of a maverick and spiteful customer, or user, community, but instead as the product of a corporate IT organization that has failed to meet IT demand, with sufficient and suitable IT supply, for too long.

Plus we need to appreciate that Shadow IT, like BYOD, is not a scenario where one side will eventually win. As with many things in life, Shadow IT scenarios are about working together and compromise. With healthy, business-focused, conversations that will hopefully allow IT to be party to, and to influence, future IT (especially cloud service) procurement decisions. And result in the necessary governance and IT services that truly meet business expectations around features, usability, cost, and speed of change.   Steve finished with some very wise words: “IT can’t have a seat at the table if it’s not in the building or not in the room.”

So how are you dealing with Shadow IT? Or, more importantly, how are you ensuring that your IT organization is meeting, and will continue to meet, your customers’ business needs?

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Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).


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