Shadow IT Threatens CIOs as Biz-Tech Relationship Changes
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Shadow IT Threatens CIOs as Biz-Tech Relationship Changes

Suddenly, the Shadow IT phenomenon appears to have stepped out of… well, the shadows.

For a long time, switched-on people within organisations have recognised that not everything in the relationship between IT and the rest of the business is in perfect harmony or immaculately synchronised. On the one hand, IT often pursues skunkworks projects outside the ambit of management approval. That’s how Linux was already viral before the media latched onto the phenomenon. On the flipside, managers and individuals often bypass IT and procurement to get simpler projects up and running quickly. That’s how Lotus Notes and later Microsoft SharePoint and salesforce.com proliferated virally among sales and marketing teams.

With smartphones and tablets blurring the lines between home and work use — and with cloud services, apps and other services that can be trialled for free or little cost — there’s more of this going on than ever before. It’s not pushing things too far to say there’s a fundamental realignment going on in how IT operates and is perceived.

To establish the scale of the Shadow IT issue, email management firm Mimecast recently commissioned Freeform Dynamics to research the area by speaking to IT pros about the effects of Shadow IT. Key findings included 82% saying decision making was being restricted by data availability (and 77% by data inconsistency), 93% struggling to control critical data and 83% seeing security risks in this endemic fragmentation.

Mimecast chief strategy officer Matthew Ravden calls it “the Dropbox problem”, referring to the ad hoc use of services like the file sharing tool to solve point problems and the fact that data can reside in so many siloes today. The consumerisation of IT/BYOD period (or ‘Generation Gmail’ as he dubs it) has been great in many ways, Ravden points out, but it has also led to issues of control, governance, security, versioning and so on.

A draconian approach would be to ban usage of such services, but that “wouldn’t go down well when the conventional wisdom is to go against swingeing rules”.

So an approach is needed that meets the organisational need for data governance and security with the flexibility that creative workers crave. That will often mean having a corporate tool that acts in a way users want from their consumer-grade alternatives. So, a company where users are signing up for large file transfer freebie offerings might deploy something that does the same on Outlook, for example, and then provide best-practice advice.

In such a situation, as many have pointed out before, the CIO becomes a gatekeeper (some might say zookeeper) by creating frameworks without introducing inflexibility and the trick, Ravden says, is to “guide rather than force”. That sounds sensible to me.

The Mimecast numbers are given some light and shade by another recent poll, this time from the backup company Mozy and conducted by Vanson Bourne. This research suggested that “fear in the workplace” is laying a dead hand on innovation with a 33% of workplace projects blocked by management and 52% of office workers saying improvements to their productivity had been stymied by IT rules and regulations.

Of course, there’s an element of ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ about both polls given the nature of the companies involved, but anybody who has been anywhere near a typical office recently will recognise this trend. The CIO isn’t the manage-down autocrat anymore, the CEO wants his iPhone to access mail, and workers know enough to be dangerous about IT. This is the new reality of technology deployment in the modern enterprise and, to some, it’s scary stuff.

It may be that there’s a bi-directional dysfunction at work here where management see traditional technology projects as risky and IT sees employees and the new cloud world as pesky, while staff bemoan the fact that enterprise software and processes can seem clunky compared to the simplicity of the freemium online tools. After decades of command-and-control, belt-and-braces approaches to IT we’ve got a situation where employees feel they need less IT involvement but the opportunities the new tools provide also come with attendant risks.

The key, to mix metaphors and pair up clichés, is to ensure that the lunatics don’t take over the asylum and the baby isn’t thrown out with the bath water. We’re crunching through the gears to a new period where IT managers have to provide a softly-softly approach. They need a lighter touch but they still must assert their authority where sensible. The stakes are high, the technology is new, the macro economy is cloudy too, and the role of IT is coming under scrutiny… these are interesting, changing times.

 

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Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Editorial Consultant for IDG Connect

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