You’re probably familiar with app stores—in fact, there’s a very good chance you’ve downloaded an application from one at some point.
But did you know that app stores can actually be a hazard to your business? They can—in the form of shadow IT.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to prevent app stores and shadow IT from wreaking havoc in your company. But before I explain how to prevent app-store shadow IT, let me first explain how app stores work and the real problems they cause.
What are app stores and how do they work?
There are different types of app stores. The most common include stores like Google Play and the iTunes App Store, which are fundamentally centered around a mobile experience. They easily allow you to buy cloud applications on your credit card, which can be expensed if you’re using them for company purposes.
These stores are a great way for people to try new technology and get free apps that connect to approved apps their company might be using (such as a video conferencing service that offers a free app for tablets); however, you can never really know the quality of the applications you get from these stores.
There are also telephone companies and other providers producing app stores now that are specifically for businesses. These providers supply (or try to supply) a curated portfolio of apps, that include either recommended apps or apps that are integrated into an offer that you can buy through their store. The problem with these app stores is that you generally end up with a nonintegrated experience, despite their best efforts.
How do app stores create shadow IT?
Obviously, these app stores promote the “try and buy” concept. You can say, “We really need a CRM solution,” then immediately download the first one you find that looks like it may have potential.
From an enterprise IT perspective, this becomes very difficult to manage. It allows people to buy applications without having an underlying strategy to support their choices, meaning they won’t think about the actual deployment, training, or management of the solution until it needs to be implemented. This creates an IT project that is doomed from the start.
This “click and buy” mentality can end up promoting bad behavior within IT procurement, and can leave you with silos of different functionality—you’ll have different vendors, different support services, different invoices, and more. And once you have all of that, you have a shadow IT scenario.
What other problems do app stores cause?
Difficult IT management isn’t the only problem that stems from app stores. Another issue is that when you download from an app store, you’re never entirely sure what you’re getting, because their offers are often unclear.
You don’t know who’s going to support the service if something goes wrong, where the bill will come from, or where you can get expert advice. If you do contact the vendor, you may even end up dealing with someone who knows nothing about the application at the core level.
IT solutions require ongoing support and installation configuration, which means they’re a much more complex purchase than simply picking from a list of apps in an app store.
Something else to think about with app stores is that while transformations are happening in the consumption of IT—and app stores are feeding that—they aren’t really adding value to the process.
Individual users are getting to choose what IT solutions they use through the power of smartphones and mobile devices. Department heads are saying they can no longer wait for IT staff to fulfill their needs, so they find solutions of their own. And uninformed purchasers are jumping into apps stores without really thinking things through. Although these people can quickly find what they think is a good solution, the app store isn’t actually delivering what the end customer needs to make an informed decision for their business.
So with app stores, there is very little upside, and a lot of potential downside.
Think of it this way...
Downloading IT solutions through an app store is like buying a vehicle from a car dealership that doesn’t have salespeople. You have a multitude of vehicles with different makes, models, ages, and purposes, but you’re left to decide on your own which car would be best for you.
You may have questions about a vehicle’s gas mileage or when it’s due for its next oil change, but there’s no one there to give you information. So you’re left to pick a car based on the fact that it looks like a decent choice, and you’re responsible for determining how to get the car out of the lot, who’s going to service it, and how to get it insured—all by yourself.
The purpose of a car salesman (no matter how annoying you think they are) is to help you navigate through the thousands of options and variations in the car market—otherwise we would all buy our cars online. We don’t generally do that, and there’s a reason why.
So, what can you do about it?
Obviously, there’s a need to improve the way IT services are procured and consumed, and app stores are evidence of that—but they aren’t necessarily the best solution for businesses. While you can’t stop all employees from downloading applications from an app store, you can encourage them to think before they do.
Tell them to ask these questions before purchasing or using a service from an app store:
What happens if something goes wrong with the app?
Who will service the app?
Who can I contact for support?
Where will my data reside within the app?
If employees can’t find answers to these questions, tell them it’s best to steer clear of the app. Promote these questions in meetings, on bulletin boards, and around the office. By creating awareness of app stores and the problems they cause, you can prevent a potential shadow IT scenario while still encouraging innovation throughout your company.