IT has probably impacted your business, whether you like it or not. We're undoubtedly in the prime of a full-force digital revolution, and in most enterprise environments, the introduction of so many new technologies has been an extremely positive thing.
With cloud and mobile leading the way, productivity and efficiency rates are growing rapidly in workplaces across the globe. New opportunities are being created on a daily basis and many firms are beginning to realise their full potential.
Unfortunately, the enterprise digital revolution isn't completely straightforward. As is often the case with technology itself, there are complications that split the relevant experts' opinions. Shadow IT is one such debate-causer; some CIOs are doing all they can to eradicate it while others are welcoming it with open arms.
What exactly is shadow IT?
In an enterprise setting, shadow IT is a term that describes the use of software or hardware that isn't officially supported by the organisation's central IT department. This could involve anything from the storage of work-related files on a personal cloud account to the facilitation of an internet connection through a tethered smartphone handset. Its usage has become more frequent in recent years for a number of reasons, most notably the consumerisation of IT.
Many of the technological tools that are now commonplace in the average working environment, like cloud storage and smartphones, have been made popular by the consumer market. For this reason, usage will inevitably overlap, and that's where shadow IT comes into play. In the past, when offices relied solely on clunky and ugly desktop PCs running unappealing and even uglier software, it wasn't such a big deal. At this point, the only real cause of shadow IT would be impatient employees going behind the specialists' backs to find quicker ways of getting things done.
Why it could be a cause for concern
While there are definitely two sides to this argument, the term often carries a negative connotation because it usually means that the technology in use hasn't been approved or even acknowledged by an organisation's IT department. This in itself creates something of a minefield for security-conscious CIOs; after all, how can they monitor and control parts of the business's operations they can't see?
When the prefix of 'cyber' is present in so many of the problems that businesses face these days, it's easy to argue the case for across-the-board IT standardisation. Stringent policies and tough consequences are the seen by many as the best ways to ensure everyone is on the same page, and failing to clamp down on unregulated uses of technology has the potential to damage any firm's chances of achieving this.
Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, it's important to remember who the experts are here. The IT team is in place for good reason, and its specialists have been employed for their skills and knowledge. Seeing as the department's job is to ensure technology is being used safely and to its full potential, having a little trust is logical. For example, an employee may be relying on one cloud service because it's already installed on their device and they know how to use it, but awareness and a little training could be all that it takes to improve efficiency by moving them onto a more suitable enterprise solution.
Interoperability is also a key concern for enterprise IT departments, but it's something that very few individual users consider in the moment. If an effective long-term IT strategy is to be adopted, every piece of the jigsaw must fit perfectly and be adaptable when things do inevitably evolve. If a critical piece of data can be processed by a system in use by one worker but not by that which has been adopted by the rest of the organisation, its value will be severely restricted.
Shadow IT as a driver of innovation
While the argument often seems one-sided, there are benefits to this new trend for unregulated technology. Perhaps most prominently, it can be conducive to innovation. As mentioned above, the consumerisation of IT has had a huge impact on how businesses operate. By not putting too many restrictions on the way employees are allowed to use their own technologies in the workplace, companies should be able to capitalise on the fruitful opportunities that consumer tech so often creates before their competitors have the chance to do the same.
By number alone, it's clear that there are more downsides and pitfalls than there are benefits when it comes to shadow IT. The fact that the main upside is innovation, however, means that it shouldn't just be banished or dismissed; the opportunity to move things forward is simply too big to ignore.
Businesses should neither fight the shift nor just let it continue unmonitored; instead, a balance has to be found. Creative minds should be allowed to flourish but the whole process must be controlled and monitored by those in the know.