Why shadow IT is a blessing in disguise for IT departments

It’s now a common saying that all companies are technology companies. As teams across the business use and rely on IT to get their work done and goals achieved, the smooth running of IT operations is a big concern for IT directors and CIOs.

However, the influx of cloud computing and the increased spending on tech by areas like finance and marketing means there is a greater risk of IT becoming fractured.

For example, Gartner has indicated that by 2017, the CMO will become a bigger buyer of IT than the CIO.

>See also: 5 ways to deal with shadow IT

This world of “shadow IT” – IT tools used for business purposes but without the sanction of the central IT department – is a big challenge and one that IT service desks will be expected to meet.

Support and shadow IT

For the IT support team, the first time they may hear about a new IT tool being in place is when there is a problem with it.

When calls come through about a new IT tool not sanctioned or bought by IT, the first response might be to put on dancing shoes and break out the “I told you so” song. however, this really should be a wake-up call for IT service management (ITSM) professionals and senior IT staff as well.

The bigger issue and impact here in regards to IT of any kind being purchased without the involvement of IT is that, far from helping teams be more nimble, it actually slows them down.

Shadow IT can lead to confusion and delays in areas such as implementation, as well as issues regarding support, compatibility, governance and regulation, integration and application of knowledge.

One big impact shadow IT creates is IT staff resourcing and productivity – investigating the problem is bigger when you are not familiar with the tool as what is lacking is an internal body of knowledge for support staff to refer to.

This can then have an impact on wider service levels, as it is difficult to fix something on the first call when you don’t have all the information you need.

Think of this as the “lumpy wallpaper” problem: while time savings can be generated by line of business teams purchasing IT directly to help themselves, some of the costs are actually transferred elsewhere to the service desk as an unintended consequence.

Also, the impact can reach further than just IT, as there will be an extended loss of end user productivity time and thus a direct cost to the core business.

If your company does not have a policy in place to support line of business-owned IT resources, it is time to consider putting one in place.

This could be a flat refusal to support any unsanctioned IT assets, but this will make the service desk unpopular very quickly.

It’s worth looking at service desk reports in more detail to identify issues arising from shadow IT, as this can support the need to address this issue head on and possibly justifying requests for additional budget.

What to do next

IT departments which find other departments buying their own tools and then running into problems must make the IT department the ‘heart beat’ of the company.

The opportunity is there for IT to provide greater value to the business by providing guidance and advice to help other teams and departments select the right technology to meet their needs.

This will turn IT into a business enabler rather than the department that simply fixes problems or says ‘no’. 

The first step is to get out into the business and to start talking to the various business units.

>See also: Shadows and clouds: IT depts still can't get a grip on unauthorised SaaS

This will help to gather an understanding of their technology requirements and needs for now and in the near future. It’s time for IT to stop just aligning to the business and start truly integrating with it.

The information IT gathers will help the team, especially the service desk, establish and manage an efficient service catalogue that outlines what technology tools and services IT supports, what it doesn’t support (and importantly why it doesn’t) and what can be supported in the future.

Essentially, this can provide more of a roadmap for how IT can meet business needs.

IT has the expertise needed to solve business-related IT issues that help achieve objectives. So, start promoting this. Also, adding some business relationship managers to the IT team who can talk ‘business’ rather than ‘tech’ with department leads will help.

The second step is to audit the software installs or cloud tools being used by staff in other departments. Encourage people to come forward with some form of “software amnesty” so the support team can get a full picture of what’s being used and by whom. This can work well alongside a full IT asset management audit conducted by the support team.

Software asset management in particular can be a significant challenge over time, even when the organisation is responsible for all its software procurement; when end-users bring in their own software or cloud services too, it can become even more complex to administer.

As well as an amnesty, IT needs disclosure of any specific licensing arrangements, upgrades, or deals that were negotiated – these will have to be carried on into the future.

The reason for looking at service and software management is not just to flush out shadow IT; it’s more about spotting why IT was not brought into the procurement process in the first place.

Most likely, this will be down to individuals not thinking about their actions in context; for others, it will be a good chance to remind them where any applicable compliance regulations or data protection requirements should be considered.

It can also be a good chance to check how your organisation matches up to best practices for software asset and license management, such as ISO 19770-1 and ISO27001.

For central IT teams, getting all this in place isn’t just a means to stop shadow IT – they may never be able to prevent it completely, and for some services, the line of business team is more suited to make choices around the tools they use.

However, it does provide the opportunity for IT to become a valued resource and a trusted adviser, rather than to be simply called out for clear-up duties that maintain the image of IT as a break-fix operation.

To some extent, it is difficult if not impossible to put the genie back in the bottle and stop people making their own choices around IT; but the opportunity is there for IT and the service desk to ‘raise its game’ and to be seen a business enabler.

Getting past the problem to the opportunity

Just as departments within companies start thinking about getting tools in to help them work better, smarter and more efficiently, the service management tool used by your service desk team to manage processes can most likely extend across the organisation.

This involves being able to spot when teams like procurement, facilities, marketing or finance are having problems with the processes they currently have in place.

>See also: The dangers of shadow IT

Extending the IT service management tool to other departments will provide multiple cost efficiencies as IT will not need to procure a new tool for this particular need, and the current service desk team can provide insight and support as it is already using the tool day-in and day-out to do its job. 

Shadow IT offers the IT department the chance to think strategically. A big part of this involves changing mindsets, both of those within IT and the other departments within the business.

Rather than being a back-office function, it’s time for IT to take centre stage by spotting challenges and providing possible solutions.

This problem-solving element is where IT has the opportunity to take a leading role with the delivery of all services.


Sourced from Matthew Neigh, Cherwell Software

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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