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Can Shadow IT Actually Benefit My Business?

Can Shadow IT Actually Benefit My Business?

Shadow IT can be the bane of many an IT department, as unauthorized software can create gaps in security, allowing hackers opportunities to compromise your systems. There can also be an increase in incompatibilities with the system, which requires time to troubleshoot because the IT department isn’t aware of the installations. It is perfectly understandable that most CIOs and vCIOs hold a hard line towards it. Yet, when properly managed, Shadow IT can provide a boon to your organization.

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT refers to 'underground' technology managed by individuals or groups outside of, and without the knowledge of, the established IT department. While previous generations of IT professionals could prevent the installation of software by limiting access to hardware, in today’s digital landscape, the cloud has created a fertile environment for unauthorized software access. 

An example of this type of cloud-based software could be instead of all team members using Google Hangouts or Slack to share information, a smaller group uses Discord because they feel it better suits their needs. The problem is, they have installed it without it being vetted by the IT department. 

The business isn’t backing it up. The business isn’t making sure sensitive data isn’t getting broadcasted or shared. The business doesn’t control it, the end-user does. 

It doesn’t mean that the end-user (or users) who set it up are malevolent, but suddenly a small sliver of information is out of your control.

Why Worry About Unauthorized Software?

Shadow IT can be an indicator that your team isn’t communicating with each other properly. When team members install software which isn’t authorized by the IT department because they feel it makes them more productive, one of the first questions a CIO or vCIO needs to ask themselves is whether or not there is communication between the IT department and the rest of the team. 

It is not uncommon for the IT department to be considered the ‘adults in the room’, as they often maintain a high level of control over what happens over the technology in the office. Doing so means limiting, if not outright prohibiting, certain technologies. Unfortunately, most issues with network security occur due to human error such as visiting compromised websites, installing games or other downloads, or utilizing applications that don’t meet the compliance standards of the business. As such, effective security requires a high level of scrutiny before granting access to new software, which can take time.

As a result, many team members and/or departments are reluctant to approach the IT department with new technologies that are geared towards increasing their productivity out of concern that their requests will be immediately denied or take too long to be approved. Instead, they don’t ask and find ways around the security protocols, ultimately putting the entire system at risk.

What Problems Can it Cause?

As noted, in order for Shadow IT to exist, it must be unauthorized; this by nature means it has to circumvent any security protocols critical to keeping your business’ data secure. Since human error is one of the main factors of compromised security, it stands that unauthorized software attached to your network will potentially be the vector a hacker uses to get in. Any software which IT is unaware of will eventually compromise the system, either by causing compatibility problems or by making the system ripe for infiltration by nefarious entities. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Here are some potential consequences of Shadow IT:

  • Unauthorized software (and hardware) aren’t subject to being monitored or scrutinized, increasing the risk of cyberattacks
  • When team members covertly use commercial cloud software such as Dropbox, chats and other sharing applications, there is an increased risk of confidentiality policies being breached
  • Shadow IT can affect the user experience of other team members due to conflicts with existing applications, interrupting workflow
  • When something goes wrong, the IT department will not be as efficient to find solutions as they may not be familiar with the software and needs time to ‘get up to speed’

Despite the instability Shadow IT can bring into the IT department and therefore the business, Shadow IT doesn’t have to be something to dread or stamp out if properly managed.

Benefits of Shadow IT

The advantage of current technology - particularly software-based solutions - is that it is dynamic, providing increased accessibility to non-tech users. In addition, it is always evolving. This means team members who are not part of the IT department can often be the best resources to determine which software solutions work best with the needs of their departments; increasing overall productivity for the business as a whole.

Additional benefits of Shadow IT include: 

  • Give individual departments ownership of their technology - When people have ownership of their technology, they tend to spend the time to learn how it operates, reducing help calls to IT.
  • Better define the solutions needed, not assumed - Team members are the best source for knowledge about what their departments need to be successful; sometimes that is a unique solution. Frequently, IT departments focus on the big picture, while individual departments are more localized. Shadow IT can remove roadblocks against department efficiency, increasing productivity by providing a better tool.
  • Lift burden from the IT Department - Ironically, properly managed Shadow IT can help IT departments by reducing the resources they have to invest to track down unauthorized software. Moreover, when team members have ownership of their technology, they are more prone to master it - reducing the need for IT to provide training.

It Has to Be Done Properly

Sure, the IT department can block access to unauthorized software when they find them... but we all know how ingenious team members can be. What can end up happening is that team members will turn to another piece of software, eventually loading something riskier than the first application that was initially blocked. This can potentially expose the network either by uploading infected software or by compromising security protocols themselves.

Properly managed Shadow IT means there is company culture encouraging communication between the IT department and the other departments. One of the causes of Shadow IT is that the IT department is simply left out of the loop when individual departments decide to enact their own IT policies. Sometimes the IT department is deliberately left out due to prior inflexibility with the request made by other team members and departments. This conflict creates an environment which is conducive for Shadow IT to take root.

Not only is Shadow IT a reality, it is most likely worse than you think and it’s not going anywhere. Your best bet to manage it, is to, well, manage it. Shadow IT thrives under the radar, if it is it to come out into the light, the rest of the team needs the confidence to approach IT with suggestions; and the IT department needs to be responsive to their concerns.

When other departments load unauthorized software, most often than not they are doing so to address a need, not covered by the existing installations. By taking the time to understand the needs of other departments, the IT department can transform the threat of Shadow IT into one that benefits the organization.

Shadow IT is Here to Stay

If you are concerned that your staff is running amok with outside software, the professional IT technicians at Datalyst can provide solutions to help your team communicate with each other. Call us at (774) 213-9701 to set up your comprehensive IT consultation today.

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