What can CIOs learn from Shadow IT?

Posted on by Teri Elniski


(Check out Matt Asay’s piece in Read Write Cloud on shadow IT, referencing this post.)

(Register now for our March 7, 2013 webinar on shadow IT.)

There’s been a lot of discussion in the past few years on the issue of shadow IT, where line of business owners and end users sidestep the central IT department to provision their own cloud computing based solutions. According to a 2012 Rackspace Survey of 500 IT leaders, 43% say they are aware of people using cloud computing services or resources not provided by their organization’s IT department. As most shadow IT occurs under the radar… this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The issue will only grow as cloud computing, mobile IT and user-owned devices put IT in the hand of nearly every employee. Making matters worse, the a la carte computing menu is hardly limited to consumerized business apps with user-friendly interfaces; it includes powerful, heavy-duty enterprise apps that run parallel to enterprise systems.

Some of this is related to software as a service solutions (like Box, Salesforce.com and Google Apps). The most interesting and resolvable examples of shadow IT involve infrastructure as a service (like Amazon Web Services and Google Compute Engine) and platform as a service (like Microsoft Azure and Google App Engine).

While shadow IT does introduce significant governance, compliance and operational efficiency risks for the company at large, it’s important to acknowledge that these development teams and line of business owners are naturally following the path of least resistance to getting their objectives met and their products to market faster. If the infrastructure options and service levels provided by central IT aren’t competitive with the free market, IT’s customers will continue to seek more agile and efficient 3rd party alternatives to get their projects delivered on time.

A logical place to start addressing the problem of shadow IT is to understand their needs and motivations. What is it that they’re getting from external cloud infrastructure solutions that they’re not able to source in-house?

Ask them.

The answer we hear most often is on-demand, self-service access to programmable and highly scalable infrastructure. It’s nice to not have to submit a ticket a week or two in advance of needing a dev/test stack.

At Cloudscaling, we see shadow IT not so much as a threat, but as a positive force for changing the way IT is delivered in the enterprise. This is an opportunity to head off the problem by putting cloud computing on the menu with the full support of IT – and provide compatible options for both public and private cloud infrastructure along with clear guidelines on where applications need to be hosted to satisfy governance and compliance requirements. The notion of emulating public cloud service providers is at the heart of our mission to transform shadow IT from a governance problem into an IT innovation driver.

The attitude that a company takes toward shadow IT makes all the difference. Too many IT departments want all this to just go away – as if by shining the light on shadow IT, all of the “rogue” applications will disappear. This won’t work as the proverbial camel’s nose is already in the tent. It’s not backing out.

The more constructive attitude is to recognize today’s shadow IT ardents as a forward thinking testbed for IT innovation. In this model, the IT department provides tools for users to experiment, helps set standards, guides the use of technologies to ensure security and compliance and, most of all, notes what works well so that best practices can be replicated across the organization. When you look beyond the technology and see the bigger picture of business transformation enabled by cloud computing, none of what is in the shadows today will remain there much longer; it’s too important.

The real opportunity with cloud computing is not in the technology, cost reductions or IT agility. Strategic CIO’s see the greatest value in the ability to develop innovative products, reinvent business models as well as in creating entirely new ways of working, new ways of interacting and new forms of organization that transform the way individuals and businesses collaborate and create value.

If you concur or have a different opinion about Shadow IT, let us know. We’de love to shed some light on the issue!

Updated: February 26, 2013.

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