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How Shadow IT Makes Your Company Stronger

by Mark Adams, on 25-Jun-2015 13:51:45


Not long ago, the idea of someone outside of a company’s IT department finding and using new technology was unheard of.

Sure, people have always been able to find ways around IT policies and controls, but until recently, companies were able to take a hard stance against the use of unauthorized devices and tools.

Not anymore.

Today, smartphones, mobile devices, and applications downloaded in the cloud have become routine, and shadow IT has become much harder to control. But should you really be trying to prevent shadow IT from happening in your company?

If you’re focused on the potential negative aspects of shadow IT, you might say yes. But shadow IT can actually make your company stronger. Here’s how.

How Shadow IT Can Make Your Company Stronger

It encourages innovation.

Every business is looking for innovation, but rigid IT policies put users in lockdown, preventing them from thinking creatively and developing new solutions. Because employees can independently search for and implement tools to help solve their problems, they are learning to be innovative. They have the ability to test new approaches to business problems and run with new ideas, which is vital for employees at all levels.

With shadow IT, you have to balance the importance of using secure applications and the potential upside of agility and improved processes. Yes, you need to make sure your employees are using applications that don’t compromise sensitive information, but if it’s a choice between locking down procurement and encouraging innovation, I would want my employees to be innovative—and it looks like others agree.

Intel’s CIO, Kim Stevenson, is directing the company’s sourcing team to strike enterprise agreements with vendors for roughly 1,800 of the 2,000 unsanctioned cloud applications her employees are using at work. Their goal is to transition employees from using the consumer-oriented versions of the apps to versions that include enhanced security features. By doing this, Intel is making sure data is secure while still encouraging innovation throughout the company.

It gives you access to valuable data.

You’ve probably heard it said before—data is king. With shadow IT, you’re able to access the right data at the right time. Certain tools and applications your employees use provide valuable knowledge, whether it’s information on a person you’re about to have a meeting with or the latest about weather, the stock market, or localized data. There are also lots of business intelligence (BI) tools that can tap into the back end of marketing or other programs (like HubSpot, for example) to give you real-time data in a simplified form.

All of this information allows you to be a step ahead of your competition, a potential buyer, or anyone else you may be doing business with. Having the right information at your fingertips and using the right tools is key. Finding people who say they’ve got a great app that allows them to focus on a piece of information is important, and I see it as a positive thing for businesses.

It lets you analyze personal behavior.

Shadow IT also gives insight into the behavioral aspects of how people approach technology. When an employee uses different applications or tries a new solution, it gives some insight into that person’s relationship with technology, and it shows whether they are a “digital pretender” or a “digital performer.” Anyone can use a smartphone or other device and appear tech savvy, but if you get to the root of things, you’ll see that many are only scraping the surface. With shadow IT, you’re able to see who is willing to dig deeper into technology to get an efficient solution that fits their needs.

I believe this is useful in terms of analyzing workers from both an HR perspective and a personal performance and development perspective. The use of shadow IT can give you valuable information about a person’s digital efficiency, which allows you to address any gaps or challenges they face and help them become more proficient with technology.

Think About The “Why”

When addressing shadow IT in your company, it’s important to think about why your employees are finding and using new applications—generally it’s for a positive reason.

  • Are they using an app because it helps them finish work on their way home? This improves the employee’s work/life balance.
  • Are they using an app because it saves them 20 minutes on regular tasks? This improves their efficiency.
  • Are they using an app because it helps them respond to things faster? This improves the quality of their work.

Shadow IT doesn’t happen because employees intend to hurt your company—it happens because they have a genuine interest in making their work—and life—better.

So before you decide that you’re better off without shadow IT, understand that it’s your employees’ way of telling you what they need. If you’re going to benefit from this information, you should work to meet those needs. By identifying the technology your employees are seeking, your IT department can work to make the right, approved tools available—this is how shadow IT will make your company stronger.

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Topics:Cloud managementEnterprise