Without question, technology is fundamental to successful organizations. Technology has transformed administrative tasks, our access to information, and how we connect with each other. Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms are revolutionizing workflows and the relationship between business and IT users. The unprecedented ease of implementation and increasing utility of these applications have created the opportunity for parallel technology stacks to operate in the shadows. The shadow IT landscape opens the door of possibility; however, we know that magic comes with a price.
What exactly is shadow IT? It could be a messenger app or voice over IP (VOIP) service , physical storage like flash drives, cloud storage like a Google Drive or Dropbox, planning calendars, writing services, or automation tools like Excel macros, Flows and PowerApps. Shadow IT is classified as an IT system built and used within an organization without explicit organizational approval.
Modern cloud enabled organizations are operating in an era where the internet browser is the ultimate technology platform. All your data, on any device, from anywhere; just add the internet. We live in a time where digital technology tools are not new and, in some cases, the applications we use have seen numerous refreshes and iterations over our organization’s lifetime. These legacy systems still deliver critical services and require regular maintenance to ensure they still are functional and secure. Younger generations are far more tech savvy, and decision making on IT systems is becoming far more distributed as organizations experiment with structures that drive more agility, creativity, and collaboration. End users are driving development and implementation or in the case of shadow IT, completely circumventing their IT department.
With no or low barriers to entry, business users can quickly create disorganized and fragmented IT infrastructure. Redundancy and security vulnerabilities pose significant challenges for IT professionals as business users experiment and deploy solutions for their workflows. Like a sugar rush, the quick productivity gains can evaporate in a crash. The inflexible nature of legacy systems and siloed IT departments create barriers to communication. Common phrases like, “I will do it myself, I cannot wait for IT”, highlight the pressure business users face as they grapple with rapidly changing external environments. SaaS products can provide a lot of potential, but can the risks be managed, and opportunities be created?
Experimentation and iteration have value. Learning is derived through trying something new. Pini Raviv argues that “IT Teams are now productivity enablers”. This is an excellent point, the opportunity hidden within the rise of shadow IT comes from the communication gap. This gap represents the unmet potential currently being filled by SaaS products. Business users have the clearest picture of their own needs and requirements while IT professionals have the knowledge and capabilities to ensure the technology employed is capable, stable, and secure. Eliminating any distrust and friction between IT staff and business users is critical to leveraging the opportunities available from SaaS solutions; while simultaneously ensuring IT infrastructure stays out of the shadows.