Shadow IT: A Problem of IT’s Own Making

Arthur Cole
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Top Data Protection Predictions for 2014

Of all the technology trends hitting the enterprise this year, the most ominous-sounding is “shadow IT.” After all, anything to do with shadows and darkness must be bad, and few people would pay any attention to something called “daylight IT” or “warm puppies infrastructure.”

But while shadow IT may pose a challenge to the enterprise, it is not necessarily a threat, unless you choose to make it one.

According to Stratecast and Frost & Sullivan, more than 80 percent of knowledge workers have used software that has not been officially cleared by IT for use in the enterprise (a.k.a. shadow IT). What’s more, it seems that upwards of a third of software in use today is of the SaaS variety that is being deployed without oversight from IT. This may sound like a lot, but my guess is that the vast majority of it revolves around non-critical business data or applications, at the moment.

But that doesn’t mean shadow IT is OK as long as it doesn’t involve top-level data and processes. As Netskope CEO Sanjay Beri pointed out to eWeek, even innocuous use of outside resources can lead to malware and infections, network congestion, and data/application redundancies that can drive up costs if not monitored properly. This is primarily why it makes no sense to simply block users from tapping outside resources, but to instead update governance and usage policies to broaden users’ provisioning options without losing control of your data.

At its heart, this is all about the user experience, says Enterprise Efficiency’s Curtis Franklin. The reason people turn to outside services and platforms is because it is a quicker and more efficient way to complete their tasks. As the traditional gatekeeper to data infrastructure, IT has long been viewed as a barrier to progress rather than an ally, and clamping down on shadow IT would simply perpetuate that view and pit IT against business units in a never-ending turf war. Or, IT could adopt a new role in the enterprise that stresses management of both internal and external resources, as well as things like contract negotiations and billing, as a means of providing a value-added service for the new distributed, software-defined data ecosystem.

And already, management platforms are incorporating the tools to do just that. CA, for example, recently launched the new CA Service Management system designed to afford business users the flexibility to compile their own mobile and collaborative environments while preserving centralized control for IT. The system provides a unified approach to accessing services, support and related assets, plus customizable support for mobile platforms like iOS and Android. As well, it promotes automated self-service, collaboration and knowledge-sharing as a means to propel enterprise resource delivery to the level that users have come to expect through their experiences with Amazon, Dropbox and other providers.

It seems, then, that shadow IT is neither friend nor foe, but simply a fact of life in the new data paradigm. If you try to fight it, you’ll probably lose, so for the sake of IT, and the enterprise in general, the best approach is to learn how to leverage it.

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