“Shadow IT” … Some Hidden Benefits.

At IT Pro’s 2nd Collaborate and Communicate event in London this week, the UK country Manager for Dropbox suggested that instead of clamping down on ‘Shadow IT’, companies could actually benefit from some of the innovative solutions that it introduces.

What Is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT describes the apps and services that employees bring in to the company systems without going through the approved channels. These are their own ideas to solve their own specific work problems e.g. using certain apps such as Whatsapp or Slack to communicate with each other rather than using the official company email or other communications systems.

Where whole departments or companies then start to adopt these emergent IT solutions this is known as ‘Stealth IT’.

Why Shadow IT?

The growth of Shadow IT in UK companies has several main drivers including:

  • Necessity – the mother of invention. There may be weaknesses in the current IT arrangements.
  • A more relaxed grip by IT departments on every aspect of IT in the company.
  • Tech-savvy employees who keep up to date with the latest developments and find better / quicker ways for their specific purposes.
  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has allowed everyone to get used to staff bringing in their own hardware and software solutions in.
  • The high speed at which new technologies come to market.
  • Cloud computing, SaaS and PaaS applications enabling staff and departments to get around the official IT channels.
  • More employees spending more time away from their desk / the office and being allowed to work remotely or in a more antonymous way.
  • A lack of awareness an inability to mange and monitor every aspect of what staff are using.

Why Encourage It?

In terms of the comments by Dropbox’s UK country Manager Peter Mark van der Linden, you could say that it’s a case of perspective and publicity for their own product because Dropbox gained popularity by the Shadow IT process.

For example users brought the “magic folder” into eight million businesses, the businesses then saw the value of the product and then requested an ‘official’ business version which Dropbox were obviously happy to provide.

Although there are of course security and compatibility issues based around the idea of people introducing their own unapproved IT methods to the workplace, allowing it to continue could mean that innovative and up-to-date solutions are found that ultimately could work better than the approved ways of doing things.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Rather than seeing Shadow IT as a threat to control, security and the strategy of the business, you could choose to see it as a potential area adding value and bringing innovation into the company. At the very least it could be a way to highlight the shortcomings of IT decision makers in the company, identify weaknesses within IT that caused the need for the shadow alternative in the first place, and to identify potential IT stars and innovative problem solving talent in the company.