IT superheroes: Treat shadow IT as your sidekick, not your arch nemesis

IT superheroes: Treat shadow IT as your sidekick, not your arch nemesis
Nick Ford is chief evangelist at Mendix.

When you think about your favourite superheroes, there is always an arch-nemesis that proves to be a thorn in the side. Think Batman and the Joker, Spiderman and Venom, Superman and Lex Luthor. For most IT leaders, it’s fair to say that one of the biggest archnemeses comes in the form of shadow IT.

And business leaders tend to agree. In our recent Digital Disconnect Study, 78% of IT and business leaders said that shadow IT has increased greatly over the past five years. For 70% of IT leaders, it’s a bad thing: there is a common notion that shadow IT contributes to a greater risk of suffering a data breach, and that it should be restricted and prevented at all costs to avoid this. Anyone who has had to solve a cybersecurity incident knows how much time can end up wasted putting out fires, simply because a project didn’t follow the necessary processes. 

But what if I told you that shadow IT is being perceived all wrong? That shadow IT could bring substantial benefits to the business if properly governed?

The manifestation of shadow IT

To understand how to control and use shadow IT for good, it’s important to first understand why shadow IT exists. Shadow IT can be best described as employees within a business creating or using applications that aren’t sanctioned by the IT team.

There are several factors that lead to employees creating their own applications; for example, it is often a response to stringent IT policies and rising impatience amongst employees working outside of the IT department.

Most large organisations have complex IT procurement processes with strict controls in place. This comes from great emphasis put on the company’s security, which should always be a priority. But this focus on security can also limits how much innovation takes place across the business. This results in users being unable to bring forward business critical applications that could solve day-to-day problems. This then leads to only one avenue: business users creating their own parallel shadow IT solutions, which are fuelled by ad-hoc applications running on uncontrolled infrastructure. 

Then there is the common problem of the IT backlog. In our research, 77% of IT leaders and 71% of business leaders agree that IT teams have a huge pipeline of new IT solutions requests that just aren’t getting built. This is because most of IT’s resource is being exhausted on maintaining and updating existing legacy applications.

This backlog isn’t helped either by the growing needs of the businesses and the shortage of skilled developers who can build such mission critical applications.  

On top of this, organisational silos are also commonly created as departments fortify themselves. This creates obvious problems, such as the IT team not having any visibility into the problems the business team faces and the technological solutions they adopt to solve them.

Given the complexities, long wait-times and lack of the right processes and tools, it’s no surprise business users tend to take matters into their own hands.

Shadow IT isn’t the bad guy

Shadow IT has a bad reputation in the world of IT, and the factors we’ve already discussed help explain why this cliché sticks. But times are changing. According to our research, 70% of business stakeholders think that shadow IT could be useful – and even good. And they’re not wrong. When delving deeper into shadow IT, what it really does is solve real and urgent problems that employees are regularly facing.

And shadow IT provides strong benefits to the business, from increasing user efficiency to delivering technology much faster and reducing costs, it is helping the business operate more smoothly. At times it can also help deliver insights into business and market trends to help shape the business’ strategy. When taking this into consideration, the benefits of shadow IT far outweigh its avoidance of strict governance protocols.

Yet employees shouldn’t just be free to build or use any technology with no regard for the company’s security or IT policies. This would only create a wild west situation where the IT department would end up sweeping in to save the day at the last minute. It would make the business unmanageable, put pressure on IT to constantly upskill to face new potential issues, and brings stress and poor mental health to the profession. Luckily, there is a solution to fix this problem and it’s called citizen development.

Citizen development to the rescue

Citizen development is all about empowering business users to build software using IT approved tools. And there is a number of ways it can help businesses.

One key benefit is that it boosts productivity. Business users have a deep understanding of their domain and are motivated to solve their problems. When empowered with the right tools, they can build apps that can streamline their internal processes, automate manual tasks and make business processes better.

Additionally, it also promotes IT and business collaboration. A fast-growing and forward-thinking business can no longer segregate business and IT. In a world where digital is an integral part of our lives, business and IT need one another to solve the enterprise’s problems. And when business users get involved early in the app development process, they can help IT by providing valuable domain experience. This allows the IT department focus on the right features so that the app meets the business requirements in optimal time.

As mentioned before, lack of visibility is one of the biggest problems with shadow IT. At the very least, any blind spot means the company can be vulnerable to a data breach. At worst., it could even paralyse a function of the business when a user who owns the critical application suddenly ups and leaves, leaving the app unsupported and undocumented.

With an IT approved tool such as low code, every business unit can build multiple apps while IT has complete visibility and control over the entire app landscape of the company. This allows citizen developers to design the functionality of the app, bringing in developers to work on the most complex parts of the app to ensure it runs smoothly and delivers the best results.

The fact of the matter is shadow IT exists and it’s not going away anytime soon. Rather than thinking of it as supervillain that needs to be vanquished, maybe it’s time businesses take the good parts from it and use it to their advantage. A citizen development programme will help improve collaboration across the business; combined with a low code platform, it has the potential to bring innovation and productivity gains to the fore. 

The dark side of shadow IT has been well-documented. It’s time we stopped fearing it and embrace it as the sidekick to IT superheroes.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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