The sunnier side of Shadow IT

Gartner estimates that 35% of a typical enterprise’s technology spend will be ‘shadow’ by 2020.

Many CIOs might understandably be kept awake at night, concerned that unauthorised tools lack the necessary data security attributes. And yet, a heavy-handed protectionist response would surely stifle innovation that is driving productivity gains and value creation in their organisations.

Other CIOs might feel that they’ve made progress on this front, but are now be confronted with a new challenge: how can their workforce collaborate effectively – especially cross-functionally and externally – with such a heterogeneous set of tools at large in the enterprise? But they shouldn’t worry; the winning tools will sort this out for them.

Its human nature…

While the multitude of available cloud solutions has undoubtedly been the catalyst of shadow IT, the underlying driver is our natural persuasion, as humans, to seek out the best tool for the task at hand.

Shadow IT is an inevitable meta-trend in that sense. Sometimes converged, one-size-fits-all tools are the answer. This is more likely with physical tools, where storage is a greater consideration.

Take smartphones, for example: one only has so many pockets. When it comes to software, though, it’s more often focused ‘best-in-class’ tools that win out. Downloading an extra app is a trivial ask if that app happens to be particularly good at something.

The apps we use in our personal lives are increasingly intuitive and designed to meet specific needs. The winners are facilitating our daily interactions.

>See also: Foreign bodies in the enterprise: BYOD and shadow IT

More than one billion people are using WhatsApp to send instant messages. Because it’s focused on delivering the best consumer instant messaging experience out there – only adding features that enhance that focused experience – WhatsApp is one of a set of apps that has become considered best-in-class.

Having become accustomed to this standard of user experience, it’s not surprising that similar consumer-style tools have become sought in the enterprise too – tools that are focused and excellent at what they do.

Embracing the inevitable

While shadow users are no doubt benefiting from the tools they’re choosing, the associated dangers are well documented and the risk of data security breaches is perhaps the most clear and present danger of all.

Gartner predicts that, by 2020, one third of enterprise cyber attacks will be on shadow tools.

Many more forward-looking IT functions have been reinventing themselves to combat this threat. If we regard this challenge with a rather sunnier, glass-half-full outlook, businesses are now full of employees that are testing and evaluating new technologies on a daily basis. And these are likely the people with the best understanding of the business problems that the tools are designed to address.

IT departments now essentially have willing and eager end users shopping for them. Valuable products are adopted and well used; the rest fall swiftly by the wayside before too much time and money is wasted. This can be an immensely powerful sourcing engine so long as it can be balanced with the necessary data security due diligence.

As a result, we’re increasingly seeing IT departments thinking about their worlds less as their own enclosed system, and more as an ecosystem with pieces both inside and outside of their own direct control.

>See also: Why businesses must not fight shadow IT

They’re engaging more consultatively with business stakeholders and are doing so earlier in the shadow purchase process. That way, they’re able to set expectations and guidelines and, importantly, shift certain compliance obligations towards those stakeholders.

Such proactive engagement by IT is very often welcomed by the wider organisation, who after all, often need winning tools to be professionally supported by a 24×7 IT team following successful pilots.

The best products will be self-selecting

However, as non-IT technology sourcing grows – even when embraced by IT and brought out of the shadows – a consequential challenge is how we’re all expected collaborate and work effectively if we’re using so many different tools.

How does a management team function effectively when critical management information and data is stored in so many disparate cloud silos, many of which they might not even have access to? And how do we work with external partners, who may have chosen a very different set of collaboration tools?

Well, if the underlying premise that people will pick the best tool for the task at hand is to hold, then surely no more should be needed than perhaps just time.

In the future, the best tools for the tasks at hand will be ones that aren’t just suitably focused and great at what they do; they will also be the ones that play best with other tools that are very good at different things. Let’s consider day-to-day remote meetings tools as an example:

1. Suitably focused

Attempts to force fit one-size-fits-all conferencing tools into the enterprise have led to 25 years of user dissatisfaction. Laundry lists of features in major industry software products are helpful for specialist users – trainers, for example – but the silent majority shy away from the complexity.

They don’t want to risk looking foolish in front of clients or senior colleagues, and so default back to the devil they know – dial-in audio calls and all the classic frustrations that come with them: issues with dial-in numbers and access codes, continually asking who just joined, and distracting background noise, to name just a few. A best-in-class tool for important, day-to-day meetings must focus on the needs of that silent majority.

2. A great experience

The silent majority has neither the time nor inclination to attend training sessions on how to use a remote meetings tool; they want something that just works. A great experience will be intuitive, where they’re naturally guided through their meetings in a clear and streamlined way.

3. Play well with others

Users want to schedule remote meetings with tools they already use to schedule all their other meetings. Wouldn’t it be great if you could join meetings from these tools too, with a click?

Wouldn’t it be great if a meeting host could take their guests – on demand, during any meeting – to content and data in other tools that they use regularly but that their guests may not use?

>See also: Digital transformation brings new challenges for CIOs

And wouldn’t it be great if meeting artefacts could be posted to project management tools for future reference and record?

The underlying premise of shadow IT is that people are naturally going to pick the best tool for the task at hand. Now that they can in the cloud-enabled digital workplace, they inevitably will.

When it comes to data security compliance, IT leadership that embraces this inevitability can create something quite powerful. But when it comes effective collaboration, in time this should just happen naturally. Otherwise, the underlying premise is defunct.

Sourced by Steve Flavell, co-CEO and co-founder at LoopUp

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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