Shadow IT

Is Your IT in the Shadows?

Shadow IT, the introduction and use of IT in an organization with little or no involvement or support from the IT department, is a growing phenomenon. For those of us working in the IT service management (ITSM) industry, when we hear about shadow IT, it’s usually connected with terms like problem, mistake, aberration, or disappointment. In short, many IT people see it only as a bad thing, and as something done to IT people by those troublesome users and customers who want to use things like file-sharing apps and build their own databases or spreadsheets, for example, without asking permission or involving anyone else.

The reality in many cases is that shadow IT is a reflection of the simple fact that, nowadays, technologies like smart phones and tablets and applications like Whatsapp, Facebook, or Skype are such an integral part of everyday life. This means that folks in other disciplines (outside of IT) just naturally take shadow IT for granted and get on with using it. They simply do not perceive it as belonging to a different part of their organization. It’s like buying electrical equipment – you wouldn’t check with an electrician; you’d just buy, bring it home, plug it in, and use it. Seems folks expect much the same with their IT at work; they do it at home so why not at work too?

In short – people simply see IT as a commodity, with buying decisions and ownership being naturally driven by the people who are going to use it, not their IT specialists. With everyone living on their personal mobile devices, nobody feels like the technical side is something out of their realm any more – it’s just routine and everyday parts of their job and work environment.

Of course, notwithstanding the everyday nature of IT today, there is still real sense in getting advice and guidance from those within the company who have specialist, relevant technical knowledge. And for most companies, there are still benefits in talking to IT before spending money on expensive IT equipment.

IT Can Be as Guilty as Others When It Comes to Shadow IT

In fact, I had a conversation recently that let me see this from a different perspective. It was a conversation with a market research professional. He was grumbling. Not about shadow IT, but about IT doing shadow market research. To be honest, I found it quite amusing to hear someone that I had always seen as a ‘customer’ acting as outraged as IT about someone encroaching on their specialist turf.

What had happened was that the IT department had decided they needed to know how well they were doing their job. So they set out to create a survey and get responses to it from the rest of the company, the ones who used the IT services.

If some other part of the company had wanted new IT services or equipment, then the folks in IT would have expected to be the first point of contact. They would expect to be told about the vision and end purpose and anticipated business value. Then IT would apply its years of experience and vast resources of expertise and suggest – probably actually design – what was needed.

But, in a company overflowing with world-class market research experts, what IT did in this case was to go off and use an easily obtainable survey product to build something for themselves. Exactly the kind of ‘shadow provision’ that IT would have screamed about. And of course the end product was full of the naivety you would expect from a service built by those who do not understand the subtleties and ramifications of what they are doing.

Now the details of what they got wrong aren’t so important to us as IT professionals and IT service providers. We aren’t employed to be research professionals any more than the research professionals are employed to be IT experts. However, each needs some degree of understanding of the other in order to deliver and make best use of services, but each also needs to make use of the other’s expertise. For example:

  • The research guys have to use the IT, create spreadsheets, analyze data, etc.
  • The IT guys need to understand enough about market research to help with design, delivery, maintenance, and improvement of IT services.

But each needs the other to produce the best possible services – be they IT services or surveys.

Shouldn’t We Use the Skills on Our Doorstep?

Now that I’ve shown you how easy it is to accidentally create some shadow services, might you have a different perspective on shadow IT? Just about every organization has finance and marketing departments. Our ITSM best practice frameworks tell IT that they should set up costing mechanisms for IT services and also collect and understand customer perceptions and attitudes towards IT. Maybe they shouldn’t need to tell us that the obvious place to get advice is from our own local subject matter experts who also know our organization and our customers so well.

Do you use your local experts, or do you go for do-it-yourself? Or perhaps you go for the expensive external consultants as a first thought? If you don’t ask your colleagues for support, do you expect them to still be seeing you as their first port of call for what seems to them as everyday IT?

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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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