By Bryan R. Davies, Senior Director of Enterprise Communications Marketing, Alcatel-Lucent
In my first blog in this series, I discussed the reasons enterprise employees are bypassing the IT department when they purchase business software. Most shadow IT users would put it this way: “That’s what I have to do to get my job done efficiently.” In many respects, that short summary goes right to the heart of the matter.
But I’d like to push a little deeper now and examine the place where shadow IT begins – the point where enterprise employees start believing it’s a necessary option. What’s the crucial factor there? Cumbersome processes with long delays? Inferior or out-of-date tools? Or could it involve how those employees are perceived and treated?
Who’s serving your customers?
Traditionally, IT departments have acted as “gatekeepers” protecting the existing infrastructure — and making sure regulatory requirements are satisfied. This includes looking at requests and saying no to those that aren’t consistent with IT policy. This is a crucial role, but it has its downside. When there’s intense pressure to meet business goals, the IT department can seem obstructive. And that creates the feeling that it’s necessary to find other faster, more convenient sources for tools that can enhance productivity.
In contrast, today’s on-demand application providers are very attuned to their customers’ needs. Instead of declining requests, they say: “Yes, we have what you want. We’ll deliver it immediately. And we’ll keep your life simple.” Enterprise employees have come to expect this kind of responsiveness. And as a result, IT departments have lost their former monopoly on the applications used within the company.
Of course, new online, on-demand delivery methods have played a major role in the proliferation of shadow IT. But isn’t it possible that the app providers’ attitude is equally influential? And if that’s the case, how do you win back your “customers?”
Embrace the same mindset — and add your own excellence
One way IT departments are starting to render shadow IT powerless is to claim the very same customer–focused approach for themselves. In changing their role from gatekeepers to service brokers, they can open up a great opportunity to outperform shadow IT in meeting customer needs — while adding expertise that can’t be matched by outside vendors.
When supported by the right enterprise infrastructure, IT organizations can be a convenient, one-stop source for both internal and external business technology. The key, of course, will be to keep this process easier than going directly to a competing vendor — while applying the corporate security and compliance policies that shadow IT overlooks.
On a day-to-day level, the service broker approach relies on building customer relationships and applying the same principles as an effective sales force. These principles include:
- Evaluating what the customer needs in order to be more productive and keep the business profitable
- Suggesting effective solutions, whether provided internally or externally
- Delivering prompt and courteous service that makes departments forget all about competing options
- Follow-up and customer care that maintains loyalty
When an IT organization adopts this approach, other departments will seek them out as a valuable contributor to the business. They’ll rely on IT for options and education. And they won’t go looking for their own applications, because it’s simply cheaper and more efficient to ask the IT department for help. In other words, good customer service from the IT organization renders shadow IT completely unnecessary.
Establish an effective framework for agility
There are, however, some crucial technical requirements for success as a service broker. IT departments will need an application framework that offers interoperability and uses standard interfaces, so they can more easily plug in whatever applications are the best fit for new customer requests — no matter what source they come from. The framework needs to support fast and seamless integration, with the ability to reach across business lines. This breaks down silos and enables optimal efficiency.
Most importantly, the framework must be flexible to support an environment of constant change as new applications come and go – it needs to keep pace with application innovation. The rapid advance of technology today makes existing implementations obsolete faster than ever before, and can render new projects outdated before their deployments are even completed.
This means it is the application control framework that is important, not the applications themselves. The technology must support the IT organization’s needs to transition from being a gatekeeper to a service broker by enabling diverse applications to work together smoothly — and at the same time provide the tools needed to outperform shadow IT when it comes to pleasing customers. And further, it needs to be device independent, so that services can be delivered to employees in the way that they want to use them.
My next blog in this series will look more deeply into that framework for agility. What works and what doesn’t? Where is Enterprise IT truly headed? And where does it leave concepts like Unified Communications?