Shadow IT: opportunity or threat?

August 4, 2015 Claranet Limited

In 2015, the average company now uses 923 cloud services*. [1]

This is 10 times higher than the average IT department estimates.

This points to staggering growth in ‘employee-led cloud adoption’ – a subset of what is otherwise known as shadow IT.

Shadow IT describes IT solutions used inside an organisation without the explicit approval of the IT department.

In the media, shadow IT has traditionally been portrayed as a serious problem.

I mean, what kind of swivel-eyed, rule-flouting ne’er-do-well would try to circumvent the golden stipulations of the well-meaning IT gang?!

But perhaps the picture is more complicated?

Why shadow IT?

Before the cloud, employees who wanted a new piece of software would have to wade through a quagmire of process.

The cloud has massively accelerated the speed at which employees can procure software. Today, departments or even individual employees are under extraordinary pressure to move quickly and flexibly turn to the cloud to get the software they need in a few minutes.

And with cloud application usage increasing across the board, staff expect the same level of ease and connectivity that they get at home with their own devices.

These cloud software applications can cover file and document sharing, enterprise applications, mass storage and even data analytics.

Useful stuff, no doubt.

But company information is valuable and most likely highly sensitive. If it’s being uploaded to the cloud left, right and centre, it can cause massive security and compliancy headaches for the IT department.

Is this an opportunity or a threat?

Academic, fence-sitting (but true) answer: it depends.

It’s a threat if you try to fight it tooth and nail, and it is a threat if you don’t monitor it all.

The IT department can’t move fast enough to keep everyone happy when business groups are under pressure to produce. They’ll just go round you – exacerbating the problem you are trying to prevent!

You will stifle innovation within the company, whilst maximising potential risk and security issues by driving business groups away and forcing them to hide their activities.

The consumerisation of IT is going to happen. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 90% of technology will be procured outside the IT department. [2]

And going with the grain, up to a point, rather than against it, opens up considerable opportunities to concentrate on more important things.

Senior IT decision-makers seem to realise this. Claranet’s 2015 Research Report surveyed over 900 IT decision-makers across Europe and found that shadow IT ranks lowest on their list of future challenges. There seems to be an acceptance that shadow IT is going to happen to some extent and that energy could be better expended elsewhere.

However, respondents listed their top future challenge as security, and retaining the management of key applications is clearly part of this area of importance for IT decision makers.

We can therefore assume that the smart IT decision maker keeps control of their mission critical applications, while allowing other business groups some freedoms to choose their own applications, so long as they do not compromise the business in any way.

What to do?

So, how do you begin to understand the state of applications and shadow IT procurement in your business?

Firstly, carry out a thorough audit of your organisation to discover the software being procured and used by staff. Keep it somewhere with your approved list of applications so you maintain a working list that enables you to understand any potential risks or strategic synergies.

The next step is an important one: communication.

Building good relationships, and understanding departmental needs is crucial to implementing effective IT strategies.

In building strong interdepartmental bonds colleagues will buy into your role and your list, persuading them to submit updates in their software which they can understand as good for the business. Keeping the list up-to-date is crucial as it allows you to mitigate risk and supply additional support where needed.

However, according to our Innovation in European IT 2015 research report only 26% of IT leaders completely understand their business. How do the other three quarters expect to know what IT needs the other teams have?

Communicate with other teams to find out what cloud applications best fit their needs and make sure that these are effectively supported by the IT department.

This is a chance to turn the threat that this represents into an opportunity for collaboration.

To learn from the employees on the front line.

To take the shadow services they use and to deliver them back to the business in a way that adds business value.


[1] Skyhigh Cloud Adoption & Risk Report Q1 2015

[2] Gartner Says Every Budget is Becoming an IT Budget -

* Based on data from 17 million users from organisations worldwide across all major industries including education, financial services, government, healthcare, energy, manufacturing, retail, high tech, media, and utilities.


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