Is ‘Shadow IT’ actually a bad thing?

However: it has been a big problem for CTOs for some time. Indeed budget holders in larger companies are irritated IT departments when they have been able to invest in their own technology without any IT help. Especially if they feel the IT team doesn’t understand their specialist needs.

IT is now a part of everyday life. The increasing use of smartphones, tablets and consumer-style apps means that the majority of employees are tech-savvy and will often look to find their own solutions to lift a technology barrier. So it is unsurprising that more and more of SMEs are finding Shadow IT a problem.

It’s important to realise the majority of staff aren’t looking to ‘break the rules’ or cause problems – in fact it often the opposite, with staff employing familiar apps or software they use at home because it is better than that available at work and they just want to get their job done as quickly and effectively as possible.This is particularly the case in a small business where employees typically are encouraged to use their own initiative.

It’s not just apps like Dropbox or Evernote that are being downloaded either. With so many software applications now available as a service, on subscription or even for free, it’s easy to download everything from sophisticated design software to financial solutions via the internet. There’s no wait for approval and monthly subscriptions can often be covered on expenses.

So what can be done about Shadow IT and is it really a risk? Here are some first steps that small businesses should consider:

  • There’s no need for a knee-jerk crackdown on any application that isn’t company approved. Look at what is being used and use this as a valuable indicator of what employees need. 
  • The risk depends on each individual business. It’s important to find the right balance between security and accessibility. Ask yourself ‘what are you trying to protect and what would be the consequences of a breach?’ Be realistic and beware of using ‘security’ as an excuse to do nothing.
  • You might be surprised at the breadth of products and software currently tailored for SMEs which can provide a better, more secure experience than using consumer-style apps.  For best results, work with outside consultants with experience and knowledge of what’s currently on offer.
  • It’s a learning curve and a chance to strengthen internal relationships. Is your IT manager actually listening to their colleagues – or are they too busy with other tasks? If security is a major worry they need make sure they communicate their side of the story so that their colleagues understand their concerns.
  • Recognise the changing role of IT: is this an opportunity to transform your IT infrastructure and improve the business as a result?

In conclusion, the most successful outcome of dealing with Shadow IT will only occur when the IT team stop trying to swim against the tide. The best approach is to learn from what employees are using, accept that this is needed and then find more business-focused alternatives where necessary. 

It is also another sign of how business technology is changing. It’s one that CIOs – and indeed anyone involved in IT – must heed as it demands a more proactive approach that goes beyond merely maintaining infrastructure on a day-to-day basis. The most forward-looking companies are using technology to mould, transform and drive strategic growth – and in doing so they are gaining a tangible competitive advantage. 

Jamie Marshall is chief technical officer at Calyx, a company delivering Information and Communications Technology solutions to organisations operating within the UK. 

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