How to Kill Shadow IT: Step Three - Kill It with Kindness

Next Generation Communications Blog

How to Kill Shadow IT: Step Three - Kill It with Kindness

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

In my second blog in this series, I discussed how you can regain control when enterprise IT users defect to self-service IT. In a nutshell, they’re looking for faster, easier ways to get their hands on tools that boost productivity. 


So your solution starts with a simple concept. Think of these users as valuable customers. Then provide a superior offer. Of course, to succeed with this new approach, you’ll need a framework for agility. In this blog, we’ll look at three reasons why this framework is important for your enterprise, as well as individual IT users.

1. Breaking out of vendor lock-in

First, I’m going to examine what you might call “the opposite of agility.” It begins with an old story, told to IT departments by various communications infrastructure vendors. And it goes like this: “To achieve the lowest operating costs, you need to use a single-vendor environment.”

The benefits, according to the story, come from pre-integrated components, which can operate seamlessly together. If your enterprise likes this story, you end up with a set of large, vertically integrated capabilities. But you soon discover that this tale has two crucial flaws: The promised savings are often missing. And eventually your IT users will need capabilities that aren’t available from your vendor’s product.

Why don’t the savings materialize? Because today’s largest vendors regularly acquire smaller companies and integrate their products into their “single vendor” offer. These components were not originally designed to work together, and budgets typically don’t allow for a full redesign with each acquisition. Therefore, the integration effort ends up quite similar to what is offered by a multi-vendor environment. Although the vertically integrated product comes from a single vendor, it just can’t deliver the expected efficiency.

This outcome has been known for years. For example, Gartner said in 2010: “The reality is that a single-vendor Cisco network isn’t necessarily less complex, easier to manage or more reliable than a network with multiple vendors when implemented with best practices.”[1]

Here’s one thing vendor integration does achieve: the creation of a suite-based solution that promotes the vendor’s business model. Invariably, some level of vendor lock-in is introduced, restricting what you can add to your IT environment.

“Lock-in” is the shadow-IT problem. It occurs when your IT users need a feature, and it isn’t in your vendor’s product — or on their roadmap. Of course, you can request the feature (and hope that thousands of other influential customers are requesting the same thing). Then, after a couple of years, your vendor may introduce what your users need. Until then, you’re locked into what you have. And until then your users have good reason to turn to shadow IT.

This lack of agility can have high-priced repercussions at the enterprise level. For example, one of the large-enterprise CIOs we’ve spoken with spent millions for a comprehensive, fully integrated solution. But soon after it was implemented, the Apple iPad was introduced. And enabling employees to use iPads would have cost millions more. The CIO chose a standalone Internet-based solution instead — and scrapped the original project. It proved to be a good choice, at a fraction of the cost.

2. Moving from integrated to open

The past 8 to 10 years have seen powerful changes in communications and applications — and even in how we think about applications (“apps”). Taking advantage of these trends can be a crucial key for meeting IT users’ needs.

First, the Internet has dramatically accelerated the rate of change. Technology, communications tools and other IT-domain items are all evolving faster. And some small developer firms with big ideas are taking enormous leaps that affect everyone.

Previously, you could establish a large enterprise infrastructure, then allow it to depreciate over its natural life cycle (about five to 15 years). But today, a wide-scale, business-transforming IT project can be out of date by the time it’s built. Further,  your IT users won’t be willing to wait for the business tools they need.

What’s the alternative? Vinod Khosla says, “… we have to re-engineer engineering itself to optimize for change.” One way to do that is to embrace the second major trend of the past decade, which is…

The industry has moved to a philosophy of openness. It’s clear that a dramatic explosion of new and innovative services has been the direct result of this philosophy. By choosing an infrastructure that allows employees to use the latest creative apps, your enterprise has a lot to gain.

But by definition, this means avoiding highly integrated, vertical solutions that limit your flexibility. It also means rethinking the use of integrated applications, such as unified communications. (In the smartphone era, how many of your IT users really want a pre-selected package of voice, video, real-time messaging and presence services?)

Instead, you can create your own federation of small, single-purpose apps. Choosing them individually lets you select whatever is best-suited to your users’ needs. And it keeps each app easier to understand and use. And why not give your enterprise users a selection, so that they can choose the ones they like?

I’m not just discussing communications here. But this is the model that’s made today’s smartphones so popular. An underlying light framework knits all the apps together. But each app is focused on doing its own small set of activities — and doing them very well. The apps can also be changed rapidly, whenever a user’s needs evolve.

3. Choosing the right path to the future

As a result of the new trends I’ve just discussed, the enterprise of the future is likely to look quite different from what we see right now. Today, your enterprise probably has data spread out over thousands of laptops. You might also rely on restrictive vertical office suites and communications systems that reduce your ability to adapt to change. And your company may pay a premium to large vendors.

Consider what’s possible by taking an apps approach instead. Rather than relying on laptops, your company could centralize all your data into well-protected servers. Then you could give employees access to precisely the data they need using relatively simple devices such as tablets, smartphones and web browsers along with key apps and cloud-based services. You would maintain control over the data through the app selection offered to the employee. This approach could greatly simplify meeting security and compliance requirements.

Is there really a need — even today — for a high-powered desktop, laptop or desk phone? Apps can take over the job of specialized device endpoints, such as PCs and desk phones. And cloud services can provide the compute power needed for specialized applications. Even the idea of a “mobile phone” is becoming outdated, as more and more different devices can be connected with mobile broadband.

The enterprise of the future is likely to exist in a post-PC, post-phone era, using a federation of apps running on whatever device is convenient. To meet your IT users’ needs, you’ll help them choose their ideal apps. Offer secure, controlled access to the data they need. Then keep your federation of apps up to date with the latest creative developments, so you can keep meeting IT users’ changing needs.

So when you are considering a communications platform for your business, it is not the specific features it offers that’s important. (No matter which features you start with, unified communications is fundamentally a silo-based concept that leads to lock-in.) Instead, the important question to ask your vendor is: “How easy is it for me to federate in a third-party app?” Or “Do you have a session-management framework?” Or even, “Is your solution based on open standards?”

As I see it, shadow IT emerges when an enterprise falls behind global IT developments and changes in human behavior. But consider using an open, flexible approach — and a framework with a common point of integration. Then it’s easy to give enterprise employees what they need for productivity, day after day. You could call it “killing shadow IT with kindness.”

What’s next

My next blog in this series will talk about BYOD and BYOA. That’s where you really need the openness and flexibility of a federated model.

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

[1] Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network, Gartner, November 17, 2010.

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