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CIO upfront: How to move away from the shadows and into the light

CIO upfront: How to move away from the shadows and into the light

Shadow IT is becoming more of an issue in large organisations as enterprises come under increasing pressure to innovate, writes Mary-Anne McCarthy of Accenture New Zealand.

Users who partake in shadow IT with the best intentions, are simply trying to tell you what they need to do their jobs better.

More and more, tech-savvy staff are becoming frustrated about IT departments that are slow and lacking direction, resulting in those staff putting in place their own technology solutions. This is what is known as ‘shadow IT’.

Shadow IT can be a concern for businesses as it is a real double-edged sword, often resulting in software solutions that address a pressing business need, but equally exposes the company to a variety of risks.

When we ask clients how much shadow IT spending occurs throughout their company, they usually don’t know. They are certain, however, that what they do see of shadow IT is only a small percentage of what really exists. We conservatively estimate that a typical large company has hundreds of unregulated cloud, SaaS, and other solutions in use.

So, what to do about it? IT leaders are recognising that it is in both their own interests and those of their business to bring shadow IT out into the light, so to speak, by legitimising these solutions. These users, who partake in shadow IT with the best intentions, are simply trying to tell you what they need to do their jobs better.

When you see the same shadow applications (or same type of applications) continually pop up across your organisation, that’s a red flag that users have a need that their officially approved IT has not fulfilled. It’s a clear signal that it’s time for you to step in and help find a more appropriate enterprise solution.

When you embrace shadow IT, you are actually empowering the people who are closest to the day-to-day running of the business to act as key decision makers in solving challenges.

Mary-Anne McCarthy, Accenture NZ

IT leaders must pay particular attention to cloud-based solutions, as the benefits delivered by cloud-based approaches, don’t offset the need for proper governance to manage risks. And the risks are many, including operational integrity, security and cost management. Yet how do you do that without compromising your company’s processes, and exposing it to further risks?

Carefully, is the answer. When you embrace shadow IT, you are actually empowering the people who are closest to the day-to-day running of the business to act as key decision makers in solving challenges.

By legitimising these cloud efforts, your IT department can gain greater visibility of the risks, as well as the benefits of a more agile approach. Traditional IT and agile IT can exist side-by-side, although we recognise it’s not easy.

The goal in creating this environment should not be to dismantle, contain or curtail shadow-IT activities. The focus should instead be on establishing ground rules that reduce organisational risk without diminishing the agility that has driven so many innovations. It’s a true balancing act.

Leaders looking to create this environment should direct the transition with a measured and phased approach.

For starters, IT leaders need to discover all the projects and applications that are running in the shadows at their company. They need to assess whether -  and how -  to govern them, and then evolve their environment, processes and workflows to support these new apps.

For projects already underway, capabilities like cost management, governance, policy enforcement, service enablement and process redesign, to name a few, require a different operating mantra with different roles, enhanced processes and new tooling. That’s when the heavy lifting starts.

That’s also when a cloud management platform (CMP) can prove its value as it encapsulates best practices and allows for automation, standardisation and self-service. CMP represents a broad set of capabilities and services that help IT leaders reduce the complexity of the technology landscape and manage risk and costs as a single entity.

Convenience, agility and speed are important CMP outcomes, but a highly evolved CMP that creates bimodal operations together can actually offer much more, such as service and application blueprints that boost speed and quality, and an effective compliance framework that frees IT to focus on critical business needs.

Once a CMP has been introduced, IT leaders can breathe a bit easier. As organisations complete their transition to a bimodal model, they can accelerate their exit from existing private data centres and other assets. That’s when the real value will emerge in terms of significantly lower operating costs and greater agility - the bonus of on-demand computing capacity.

At the end of the day, both traditional IT and shadow IT advocates have a lot to gain by transitioning to a bimodal IT operating model with the help of CMP to bridge both old and new. This promotes legitimacy and gives IT professionals exposure to new opportunities that a cloud-friendly environment presents.

Mary-Anne McCarthy leads Accenture Technology in New Zealand.

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