Have you ever forwarded a work or office email to a personal Gmail or other account? Maybe it was to avoid storage issues and bypass your company's 100 MB limit or one GB storage limit compared to Gmail's 25 GB?
Or perhaps you've forwarded corporate email to a personal account to read it on the go since your company doesn't provide you a corporate device? And in extreme cases, you might have grabbed your credit card and ordered cloud services from Cloud Service Provider to work on a small project, but bypassing the necessary approvals from IT or the business.
If you've done any of these things, you're participating in a new trend known as Shadow IT. The rise and evolution of cloud services, and the ease with which they can be purchased with little more than the virtual swipe of a credit card, is fueling this Shadow IT trend, in which IT systems and software - including cloud services - are built and used within enterprises without the approval of IT or management.
Shadow IT has become a quick and easy way for end users to improve their agility and innovation. But along with the list of pros comes a list of cons as well.
Shadow IT could pose a security, concern creating security holes and potentially leading to damaging a company's reputation and business if incorrectly executed. It could also expose company data to third party cloud service providers and become a compliance issue if it is not done properly and without contractual due diligence.
But if done correctly and properly executed, Shadow IT can spur innovation. Rather than standing in the way of employees purchasing and using the tools to do their jobs better, CIOs should embrace and encourage it. Much like the bring your own device (BYOD) trend, Shadow IT will persist and IT departments will be bypassed. CIOs who take notice and make it work will create a new level of freedom.
It makes perfect sense why Shadow IT, BYOD and other employee-driven technology trends are taking hold so tightly in the enterprise: Traditional IT organizations are taking longer to fulfill business needs because they are understaffed and spend the vast majority - some say 80 percent - of their time supporting day-to-day issues and fighting fires. At the same time, some IT pros are focused so heavily on technology that they can lose sight of business requirements.
At the same time, employees are becoming more tech savvy and innovative, and the prices of some popular cloud services – Dropbox, Google Disk, iCloud, YouSendIt and many others –are dropping or, in many cases, they’re free.
Consider this example: At a major financial institution, end-users became frustrated with central IT's inability to respond to business needs. As a workaround, the employees took matters into their own hands. The result was more agility for employees and the business.
As more budget is flagged for cloud-based services, Shadow IT is in a position to continue cutting costs, particularly for IT infrastructure. The corporate technology landscape is changing, and CIOs need to take notice. IT, too, has to understand that its role should be to help the business move forward and innovate, not to create roadblocks. Embracing and creating policies around Shadow IT will make it much easier to manage.
IT leadership needs to loosen its stranglehold and spend less time fighting to retain control. Instead, IT should work on self-provisioning and IT automation, tools that will help employees have easy access to the tools they need in a controlled and approved environment.
Support from IT and from the CIO, and a clearly defined IT governance framework, can eliminate many of the risks of Shadow IT, and defining cloud use policies and working closely with cloud service providers can go a long way toward maintaining that control.