Man looking away

Shadow IT - Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared

Written By: Alexandra Levit
July 28, 2016
4 min read

Shadow IT and the app-building practice of “citizen development” is still an area of concern for many IT leaders. After all, it forces them to cede at least some control over an area they have managed solo for decades. Here are some actions IT leaders can take to grow more comfortable around shadow IT applications.

Understand your own priorities

IT departments are inundated with line of business requests and simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to address all of them. If you haven’t already, speak with your manager about where you should be focusing your energy, and the overarching business and departmental goals you are working to accomplish. Requests that fall outside this scope are often perfect candidates for citizen development and should be delegated if possible.

Vet the technology

Most line of business employees aren’t trained in programming and traditional application development, so thinking that even the most ambitious ones can become instant experts is naïve at best. Fortunately, low and no code platforms exist that allow citizen developers to build applications with little to no coding experience. Investigate these and assess how they can integrate with your existing IT infrastructure before giving the green light.

Encourage pilot implementations

You’ll feel better about letting your citizen developers take the reins if the implementation is reasonably contained, is of limited scope, and is centered on an isolated business process – without the ability to disrupt the business as a whole. Pilot implementations give citizen developers the opportunity to experiment, tweak the approach, and improve upon it while using a minimal amount of resources.

Take your citizen developer out for a drink

If the very idea of what your citizen developer is up to keeps you awake at night, it may be due to an inherent lack of trust. Especially if you haven’t worked with this person before, you have no reason to believe the implementation won’t turn into a disaster that you have to fix. Build trust by getting to know your citizen developer as a human being. Take him or her out in a casual environment and start a communication exchange that builds a friendly rapport and facilitates ongoing cooperation.

Put together a primer

Most citizen developers recognize that there’s a lot to learn from IT, and that when it comes to application development, IT has “been there and done that.” Make sure that your citizen developers are properly trained on your technology and processes, and if you want or need things done in a certain way, spell them out in written form for them to refer to later. You should also prompt citizen developers to create their own documentation so that others have a roadmap for how the application came about.

Ensure guardrails are in place

Risk is a major source of anxiety for IT leaders. After all, citizen development brings the potential of integration problems, security breaches, internal political snafus – you name it. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to create a system of oversight that provides checks and balances at every stage. The more openly and frequently you’re communicating, the more informed you’ll be and the less you’ll have to worry.

Insist on testing

Work with your citizen developer to ensure that a new application is ready for primetime, with most of its basic functionality operational, before it is migrated into a production environment. Try to perform testing with real users as they engage in real work tasks for which the application is intended. If this is your developer’s first application, it’s appropriate to be more hands-on during the testing process.

Realize it won’t be perfect

A cardinal rule of delegation is that the final product will never be as good as you would do it yourself. However, it’s important to assess whether the application is “good enough,” meaning it accomplishes the core business objective defined at the start. Strong managers empower others to solve their own problems so that they can handle more critical issues. Consider this: if an application is 90 percent there rather than 100, should your time really be spent trying to get that last 10 percent?

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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