How to Kill Shadow IT: Step One - Recognize that Resistance is Futile

Next Generation Communications Blog

How to Kill Shadow IT: Step One - Recognize that Resistance is Futile

By Bryan R. Davies, Senior Director of Enterprise Communications Marketing, Alcatel-Lucent

The first step in resolving any problem is to make sure you understand the core issues. So here’s the crucial question for shadow IT: What is the biggest challenge it presents for your IT department?

Holding back the flood?  

Today’s flood of mobile devices and cloud services is making shadow IT a bigger headache than ever before. But it’s nothing new. It started with the first enterprise employee who ever put an application in place without the knowledge or approval of IT staff.


Five years ago, the fundamental reasons for bypassing the IT department were the same as they are today: Individuals and departments want the best tools available for doing their jobs efficiently, so they can meet their key performance indicators (KPIs).  This is especially true for today’s highly mobile workforce where the boundaries of the where and when you work are broad.  A recent New York Times article noted that more than 3.2 million enterprise employees in America telecommute.  This highly mobile and adaptable workforce wants to avoid cumbersome IT procedures that limit their choices, add unnecessary effort — and force them to wait around for delivery of their new applications. In other words, if something slows down productivity, these departments will go around it. This impulse is actually good for the business, because it helps employees wring every last drop of efficiency out of their processes.

But you know the consequences. When anyone circumvents standard procedures, their applications fall outside the controls and safeguards that your IT department has put in place. So is your biggest challenge to hold back today’s flood of nonstandard devices and applications, as a way to maintain control? Do you simply need to implement clearer rules, with tougher enforcement? Or is there another possibility?

Facing disruptive change

Some analysts believe that today’s pressure to be productive is driving growth in shadow IT. But a very different market trend may play a more powerful role: It’s now remarkably fast, easy and economical to acquire applications. Anyone with a credit card and a browser can have a new application running in virtually no time — instead of going through the lengthy process of IT procurement.

This application-on-demand method began in the consumer marketplace. But, like the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, it has moved into the workplace. Even key decision makers in non-IT departments are using their budgets to quickly purchase what they need. As early as January 2012, a Gartner analyst predicted that, within 5 years, CMOs would spend more on IT than CIOs.


Now, as a result of this growing trend, 80 percent of respondents to a recent Frost & Sullivan survey said they use nonapproved software as a service (SaaS) applications in their jobs. In other words, 4 out of 5 employees are using shadow IT. The applications they rely on make up more than one third of the 20 SaaS applications used at the average company. And they extend across all application types.  

Here’s an especially interesting point about this trend: The same study found that IT employees use a higher number of nonapproved applications than other employees do. The analyst who reported on these findings suggests that the high occurrence of nonapproved SaaS applications may indicate that they’re “no longer in the shadows.”


So perhaps the biggest challenge facing your IT department is to recognize the consequences of disruptive change. Shadow IT is the direct and simple reaction of employees who feel their needs are not being met through traditional IT channels. And today, they have easy, nearly instantaneous alternatives for getting what they want. These user-friendly options are inundating the marketplace. What will the consequences be if you focus on trying to control and contain them?

The next step

The second step in killing shadow IT is to embrace it and render it powerless! When IT organizations embrace shadow IT and implement strategies to enable employees to safely and easily access the innovative new applications they need everyone wins. That’s what we’ll discuss in the next blog in this series.

Bryan Davies leads Enterprise Communications Marketing for Alcatel-Lucent. To continue the discussion, follow Bryan on Twitter @brdavies

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