Shadow IT is the use of IT tools in an organization which are not controlled by that organization. Usually this means that the IT department does not know that a tool is used and/or it has not given any formal approval to use that tool. Although critized by most IT departments, shadow IT also is an important supporting element to innovation.
Shadow IT is often the result of existing IT solutions not being able to deliver the right solution for a specific group of users. These users come from various parts of the organization but in most cases consist of users that are in one way or another improving or creating something new. The right IT tools offer people to become more effecient, share knowledge easier and deliver results faster. Users who are looking for these kind of tools are mostly executives and business managers involved in development work (organizational or product/service). These users have become much more demanding and knowledgeable about what IT solutions they need.
The use of shadow IT has certainly increased with the arrival of cloud computing. Without having to install a software or make big financial investments, it is now possible to quickly evaluate and implement a solution that fits your needs. Finding and purchasing software is now also much easier since product information, use cases and references can be found on the internet and does not require talking in IT language to a software vendor.
Downside for an organization might be the loss of control. IT departments aim to control the information flows. Security of the solution, information stored in different places and who has access to what are some concerns that IT has. Tackling these concerns are usually not due to the technical aspects of the IT solution but the user. In security the user is always the weakest link.
So how can both IT and business benefit? In our case we see firstly that the people that we talk to at our customer organizations are very knowledgeable. These are executives who know exactly what is missing, what value the new solution should deliver and what obstacles there are to implement a new solution. Secondly, in most cases the IT department is involved in the decision-making. This means that the business manager has to have a strong case why existing solutions are not delivering the right value and how IT can maintain a form of control.
IT benefits from users who can do their work more effectively (both within and outside the organizational boundaries) while maintaining a minimum level of control over the information flows. It is therefore important that IT moves away from a ”one solution fits all” attitude and lets the users decide how they want to tackle their work challenges and how to support their work processes. Business on the other hand benefits from clearly understanding what specific problem they are trying to address with a new solution and being able to make this case to IT, if necessary. To support this notion: the majority of IT driven solution implementations fail. And more will fail in the future (source: Gartner).