Narain Muralidharan, ITSM evangelist, Freshservice
Narain Muralidharan, ITSM evangelist, Freshservice

At a recent conference, I was speaking to a veteran IT expert when she mentioned something that piqued my interest. She remarked that they were having “issues with shadow IT.” On probing further, she owned up that business managers were purchasing all sorts of SaaS tools without IT's approval or knowledge. The gripe was that while IT had been hard at work developing solutions for many years, the young, fresh-out-of-school marketing hotshot up and decided to buy a marketing automation tool. Which probably adds to the likelihood of marketing having more budget than IT does for the entire company put together.

The cloud is not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need

The consumerisation of IT, thanks to the cloud, has been a huge catalyst in this shadow IT era. IT departments cry foul because of various security issues. For instance, does tackling shadow IT with bureaucratic processes increase data security? The recent infamous breach at Glassdoor where thousands of email addresses were leaked says otherwise. No amount of IT involvement in the selection of tool that would be later used to send the ill-fated email, would have saved the company the blushes and the negative PR, albeit minor.

According to a report by Rackspace titled “The anatomy of cloud migration,” C-levels with knowledge of the cloud drove 32 percent of transformations. Board of directors and C-levels without knowledge of the cloud drove 18 and 11 percent respectively. Twenty two percent of transformation was driven by the IT development departments and 14 percent by IT operations departments. This effectively means that business leaders drive 61 percent of cloud migrations as opposed to IT departments.

Coming back to the topic at hand – shadow IT – I was reminded of a Gartner report that stated that by 2017, CMOs will spend more than CIOs. A majority of this is because of the proliferation of cloud tools, and what IT likes to call the consumerisation of IT. Back in the day, when the need for sales arose to track invoices and payments, the job would go to IT. A business analyst would meet the sales head and gather requirements, the IT analyst would design the processes, and developers would code with a project manager managing the entire project. And then, there is QA and testing after which the project is delivered with various SLAs in place for maintenance and continued support. I make the entire process sound easy, but battle-hardened IT veterans reading this would know this is a long and arduous process with a high probability of rolling out bad and buggy software.

Why does “shadow IT” happen – IT is perceived as slow and bureaucratic. Let's assume for a minute that IT is well-staffed, and is efficient in the areas mentioned above. For a straightforward solution like retail point of sale software, requirement gathering, design, or development, testing and delivery will take months, which is still fairly optimistic. And then there is ongoing maintenance, development towards updates and ops, data centre, sysadmin, etc. With this scenario in mind, now let's answer this question – why should the business leader and the sales head wait six months for a better POS solution, instead of evaluating a few SaaS solutions and implementing the same within a few weeks? Most aspects like security and maintenance are taken care of by the SaaS vendors themselves. All you have to do is customise the tool to suit your requirements.

Shadow IT isn't a threat to the IT department, it is an opportunity to become more relevant to the business. The cloud is huge, and constantly evolving making enterprise IT more and more efficient. Embracing the cloud is a great way in the road to remaining relevant within the enterprise. Before you decide to write me hate mails, let me assure you that good old IT skills like development are still very much relevant and needed. Here is an example. Much of enterprise SaaS relies on integrations for success. And, a large part of SaaS success depends on how well these tools integrate with other SaaS solutions, and how well they integrate with local business systems. And vendors work with local IT development teams all the time to ensure we integrate seamlessly with their systems.

Enabling solutions is my business, and business is good

You need not be the solution provider, but be the business enabler. The IT department should strive to become the knowledge hub within the company, to whom business leaders look for expert consulting, execution, and support. Business leaders want convenience and fast implementation to support their aggressive growth plans. They do not come to IT because they perceive it as a cumbersome process. Earn their trust, and consistently deliver value, while evolving to keep pace with the technological innovations. There are far too many horror stories of legendary companies shutting shop because they did not innovate with the times.

What can you start with?

Involve business managers while setting up policies and standards. The IT department should also set the standard for software, and be ruthless about it. Remember that it is the IT department that is going to spend sleepless nights in case of a misadventure. IT should also be involved in the procurement process – this includes everything from gathering requirements, drafting RFPs, to customising and rolling out the tool. Integration of cloud tools with other business systems is another area where IT can add a huge value to the business.

A growing company invariably has a number of business managers armed with credit cards buying different tools. This might result in different pockets of technology being used within the organisation and this most often than not proves to be counterproductive. Streamlining and ensuring adoption of technology consistently throughout the organisation is another challenge for IT to solve.

The IT department is no longer the primary solution provider within the enterprise. We should understand this, and instead of fighting consumerisation of IT, we should evolve into business enablers. Users don't have to use your file server if they want file storage. There are excellent, enterprise grade solutions like Dropbox and Google Drive that are trusted by even the likes of Fortune 500 companies. Understanding the goals of the business goes a long way in ensuring the IT department's success, but that is an article for a different day.

Contributed by Narain Muralidharan, ITSM evangelist, Freshservice