Shadow IT — The phrase itself causes frustration and rolled eyes in IT groups. Business staffs dislike the stigma attached to the phrase. But what is really meant by ‘Shadow IT’? Why and how does Shadow IT come into being in the first place? Although the answers to these questions are very likely to depend on your unique organizational structure and culture, taking the time to understand the root cause of Shadow IT will indicate if there are larger problems at hand. By understanding the factors that brought Shadow IT into being, the value that it creates, and the pitfalls within, you can lead positive change and drive both innovation and productivity.
Shadow IT is what we call the use of technology products without IT participation and it is generally mired within an adversarial relationship between business teams and IT groups. There are logical reasons for this adversarial environment since technology is likely to feel that the business went behind their backs and the business is likely to be frustrated and disappointed with the lack of previous contributions from IT.
Shadow IT is most often born out of IT’s failure to meet the needs of the business either by lack of resources, lack of delivery, lack of timely delivery, or failure to evolve their capabilities to keep up with the ever-evolving business environment and related needs. Business teams will frequently view IT as an impedance to progress when these negative dynamics exist. The business may not feel that they have sufficient control over their own destiny and are likely to want self-serve capabilities and full access to data in order to empower them to do their jobs.
With unmet needs the business is forced to choose between either going it alone and building Shadow IT systems, which is the best outcome in this case, or the business may choose to do nothing leaving the potential value of missed opportunities drop to the floor.
Shadow IT in itself is not a bad thing for your business. It means that someone is getting the work done somehow. However, the presence of Shadow IT does indicate a problem within your organization. The problem could be as simple as technology teams not having sufficient focus on delivering to meet business needs due to a variety of factors such as being incentivized to keep the lights on and not for enhancing and adding new business capabilities. Whatever the cause there is a greater problem at hand if Shadow IT has taken root at your company.
The single biggest advantage to Shadow IT is the fact that at least someone is engaged and working to deliver solutions to fill business needs and opportunities which can improve revenue, profits, savings, and customer satisfaction. Beyond that, Shadow IT will generally yield a solution more closely aligned with the original business need with less emphasis on technology capabilities and more emphasis on the appropriateness, alignment, and the speed of delivery of the end product. Scheduling is simpler with Shadow IT delivered solutions as there is at least one fewer groups participating in the project therefore there are fewer scheduling constraints.
There is a flip side to all of those advantages however. A common problem associated with Shadow IT is that the end solution is rarely scalable or can be integrated with other systems which make it a one-off solution. Shadow IT teams are generally focused on getting to the end state as rapidly as possible leaving no time to architect a solution with shareable, reusable components. Future related efforts will likely need to be built from the ground up, as opposed to extending the current system, causing duplicate effort and slower delivery of subsequent projects. Conversely, solutions built with shareable, re-usable, componentized architecture allow future project teams to quickly build upon the existing foundation of previous project components. With each new project built in this manner we will be progressively cutting development time and achieving the original desired goal of quicker delivery.
Another potential drawback of Shadow IT is the lack of formal testing and QA efforts which may lead to a lower quality product that may include incorrect data upon which strategy is planned and action is taken. These actions and strategies are likely to be flawed if they are based on inaccurate, partial, or poorly integrated data. Confusion propagates in organizations with multiple Shadow IT groups each of which provides similar deliverables. There are likely to be discrepancies among the results which require troubleshooting and diagnoses to remedy and the entire situation is likely to lead to finger pointing and arguing.
With all of that to consider what should we be working to achieve? An ideal outcome is that Shadow IT delivered solutions be treated as working prototypes from an IT perspective and that IT works to productionalize the end results in a robust, scalable, supportable manner. This collaborative outcome might create an entirely new dynamic between the business and technology. Instead of Shadow IT we would have Partner IT, or Collaborative IT, or Distributed IT. Whatever you might call it, we would surely be better off if these needs were addressed jointly with each group, business, and technology, taking on the work that best suits their background, skills, knowledge, and ability to produce.
Dirk Garner is a Principal Consultant at Garner Consulting providing data strategy consulting and full stack development. Dirk can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or through LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/dirkgarner