Shadow IT: Worse Than We Thought

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Study Examines Government Cloud Adoption and Shadow IT

The enterprise has many reasons to convert legacy infrastructure into a private cloud: lower costs, greater flexibility and scalability. These are all perfectly valid reasons, but it seems that a key driver is the rise of shadow IT.

According to new research from Cisco, shadow IT (and I’m still waiting for someone to print the obvious acronym here) is much worse than previously suspected. A recent survey of data users showed that the use of unauthorized applications is 15 to 20 times higher than what many CIOs believe. On average, the report states, IT departments estimate their companies utilize about 50 cloud services while in fact the number is 730. And the discrepancy between reality and perception is growing quickly: One year ago, it was 7x, within six months it had jumped to 10x. At this rate, the number of shadow apps could top 1,000 for the average enterprise by the end of the year.

Shadow IT is the natural result of the sheer complexity of the legacy data environment, says Technalysis Research’s Bob O’Donnell. This is evident not only on the infrastructure layer, but in the applications as well, many of which have become so feature-laden and difficult to use that they sit idle in the data center while users look elsewhere for friendlier productivity tools. And if they require something completely new, it is usually available instantly, unlike an IT app, which has to go through development, testing, integration and other steps before it can be accessed by the user.

The pat answer to what the enterprise should do about this has long been to embrace shadow IT, not fight it. But exactly how is this to be done? According to XO Communications’ John Grady, the best approach is the “Five D’s”: Discover, Defend, Destroy, Develop and Discuss. The Discover step is when IT finally admits the facts of shadow IT, much like an alcoholic has to admit the problem before treatment can begin. From there, the enterprise can then Defend against or Destroy shadow apps that truly pose a threat while at the same time Develop rules, policies and infrastructure to support approved services. The key step is Discuss, however, as this is where IT finally gets a handle on what the user base is looking for and how their needs can be addressed.

IT should also recognize that there is just no way internal resources can support the kind of application ecosystem that exists on the public cloud, so no matter how proactive the enterprise becomes, people will still look elsewhere for data functionality, says RJMetrics CEO Robert J. Moore. So the problem isn’t so much that users are no longer relying on IT, it’s that third-party providers suddenly know more about the inner workings of the enterprise than its own data and infrastructure managers do. What is really needed, then, is a centralized data warehouse, even one that exists on the cloud, so that no matter what apps are being used, the enterprise will still retain full control over what really matters: its data.

All of these measures involve giving up some control in order to derive the greater benefits of lower costs and increased productivity. This is a tough pill for many CIOs to swallow, given that they were reared in a world where IT held unrivaled sway over infrastructure and applications.

But it’s a new world we are finding ourselves in, and the change is happening much faster than most enterprise techies are comfortable with. With cloud and mobile computing rewriting the business models of everything from retail to public transportation and oil exploration, enterprises that do not keep up with the times will find that the times, and their profitability, will quickly pass them by.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.

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