Why IT Must Embrace Shadow IT to Survive Disruption

Written By: Alexandra Levit
May 22, 2020
5 min read

Times of disruption change the face of business. With the prevalence of digital tools and digital natives now in the workforce, companies can no longer rely on the traditional waterfall management styles of the past.

This includes the IT department.

Digital transformation is going to make businesses leaner, smarter, and faster, but only if management can keep up. CIOs are now being tested, not just their tech chops but their communication and business expertise.

And that means coming to terms once and for all with something businesses want to ignore — shadow IT. Rather than ban it, ignore it, or fear it, the time has come for companies to embrace managed shadow IT as a critical strategy. Here’s what you need to know.

What is shadow IT? Why all the fuss?

If you have ignored what your teams are doing so far, there’s a good reason to start paying attention this second. Recent Gartner studies discovered that somewhere between 30 and 40% of IT spending in large enterprises goes to shadow IT while Everest Group puts it closer to 50%. Your people are taking matters into their own hands.

If you think you won’t have to worry about shadow IT as a CIO, you’re likely wrong. For organizations looking to make a full digital transformation in the coming years, data is only as good as its storage. Data permanently at rest, trapped in silos, or hopelessly mislabeled and misappropriated leaves a ton of money on the table.

Managed shadow IT, which allows for innovation and governance to happen simultaneously, removes the guards from your sensitive data and leaves you open to attack. And contrary to popular belief, the massive hacker breach isn’t even your biggest worry. Instead, without proper data governance, you run the risk of your own people accidentally disclosing or misusing your data.

What’s causing the shadow IT boom?

Cisco reports that IT managers estimate an average of 51programs running on the company cloud when that number is closer to… wait for it… 730.

So what’s causing this mismatch? Four key factors:

  • Democratization of data – Everyone in your organization has access to data, from productivity to marketing to applications and social media. Anyone can dig in.
  • Digital natives are your workforce now – Technologically savvy teams are less likely to wait for IT to dream up a solution and more likely to take matters into their own hands.
  • You don’t have enough developers – Whether you’re an enterprise or (especially) a smaller business, you don’t have the developer base to address every issue.
  • Business/developer mismatch – Many programs designed for developers aren’t built with business impact in mind. This mismatch leads business leaders and managers to look for solutions on their own.

The reality is that it’s too late to go back in time and kill off shadow IT before it ever gets started. And even if you could, it would be like the plot in movies where characters finally reach the end, having stopped one apocalyptic disaster — only to realize that the end is still coming, just not where they expected.

The solution? Embracing shadow IT with low-code platforms

You’re going to have to give up some control, and that is a good thing. You heard us right: this is a good thing. Giving up that control gives your company an edge because it leaves room for what humans do best — innovation.

The people best suited to build some applications are the ones on the front lines of the issue. Embracing lean development and Agile principles could help shift shadow IT to something greater.

As business copes with unprecedented disruption, the chances of going back to the way things were are zero. You’ll have to embrace change to survive. Options like low-code platforms can help your business set up new processes and pivot quickly in the face of unprecedented change.

Low-code gives you “managed shadow IT,” a seemingly impossible blend of innovation and governance. To make it work, your teams must:

  • Understand priorities: A clear roadmap outlining IT’s goals and impacts versus everything departments deal with day to day helps CIOs and teams prioritize and delegate correctly.
  • Vet the technology: Using low-code platforms allow citizen developers to understand where and how to develop solutions.
  • Outline goals: Limited scope projects are an excellent way to implement shadow IT principles under management. Take the time to outline goals and understand that the iterative process is vital.
  • Adhere to best practices: Guardrails and testing are a vital part of this process, as is documentation. Your teams must understand what’s at stake and feel comfortable creating within the (clear) boundaries of the organization.
  • Test, test, test: Give your citizen developers free rein to build, but before it’s put into production, test it. Perform it with real users and real tasks in preparation. Get hands-on.
  • Reiterate that perfection isn’t the answer: Business goals and technology goals don’t always align. Business seeks the most straightforward solution with the most significant impact. Your citizen developer will probably go this direction.

Powering digital transformation with low-code platforms

Managed shadow IT turns your team into innovators and relieves the burden on the IT department. If you aren’t putting out small fires all the time, your team can get back to developing systems and infrastructure that will make a big impact.

It’s time to turn shadow IT into an opportunity instead of the bogeyman that keeps you up at night. Give your citizen developers the reigns to build what they need within guidelines and with proper testing. You may find that these innovations happening at the edge of business are your newest competitive edge.

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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