The Shadow IT Knows

BatmanYou know who they are.  The end runners.  The troublemakers.  Rogue squadron.  They are the people in your organization fed up with the status quo and staging a little Coup d’état as an act of defiance and frustration.  There’s a token few that are just outright anarchists, but most in fact believe themselves to be fighting for a noble cause.   Perhaps their rationale is slightly flawed, and their means troublesome, but they are just trying to get their work done in a way that makes sense.  You may very well be one of them.

They are, collectively, Batman Shadow IT.  <<really need a theme song here>>

These are the people who are floating company IP out on Dropbox because it’s easier.  They may have their own homegrown key value store database server next to the toilet because it’s faster.  They may have found a way to spoof that mandatory attribute screen on the PLM system or they’re hacking away on the company’s proprietary schematics on their iPhone.  Do they mean to be reckless?  Generally, no.  They just may not have thought through the consequences completely – especially within the larger business picture.  Generally, security tends to be rather high on the list of oversights.  And when oversights end up affecting quality or worse – violating laws and/or regulations- this can be a serious problem.

This is an all too common theme in enterprise software, where antiquated interfaces, architectures, and methodologies are known to insight riot quite regularly.  In the past, Shadow IT interlopers would be hunted down, strung up, and quartered, sending bits to all fours corners of the enterprise to serve as a warning.  The offending software and/or devices would be shut down, blocked, and crushed into tiny bits to use as surfacing for the parking lot.  But sometimes that didn’t have the intended effect.

In the past, generic advice has been to “de-silo” IT, trying to turn it into the ultimate customer service model.  Would you like a database with that?  Frankly that’s an almost impossible task in today’s environment of outsourcing, where IT goals are rarely aligned with business units.  Trying to force IT to be all things to all people and do so with expertise, responsiveness, and flair is asking too much of a single organization.

Long, long ago, IT focused on just ensuring all the software and hardware was running smoothly.  But in the last decade or two, IT has been led astray.  Why?  As manual and paper processes have been replaced with electronic signatures and enterprise widgets, the power to change has shifted from the business to IT.  In the past, if business wanted to adjust, they would change the process and adjust.  Just like that.  Now, the change requires involving IT to change the system.  Business leaders are forced to express their ideas in the context of tools they don’t understand while IT labors to configure complex systems to enact a process they equally don’t understand.  It certainly sounds pretty stupid when you think about it.  It’s like hiring your mechanic to plan your road trip.  Worst vacation, ever.

A recent Ars Technica article about the changing definition of “Enterprise” highlights an interesting aspect about what attitudes may be changing with regard to Shadow IT.  It seems perhaps Shadow IT should not be exterminated, but rather harnessed for creative, motivated problem solving.  Those disillusioned troublemakers are innovators, and their collective creativity is a force that can do great good.  Only Batman can save Gotham.

BYOD is one thing… For Enterprise software – the central issue is the inability for users to enact change, especially incremental change, within the governing systems.   Monolithic enterprise architectures weighed down by the price of a thousand functionalities are an obstacle to change in general.  Changes perceived as simple from the user perspective are burdened with complex data model manipulations, revaluation of customization code, and testing requirements.

A familiar scenario: an individual or department approaches IT with a problem, request, or improvement for functionality.  They know it would be advantageous to utilize the company’s system-of-choice, but experience has taught them to keep expectations low.  Sure enough, an overwhelmed and understaffed IT, responds with a proposal highlighted by an untenable schedule.  The customer then returns to their department in despair; their needed capability will not see the light of day for months, if not years.  It’s entirely understandable why people not apt to wait such a long time try to find more amenable alternatives.  Some ultimately turn to the seedy underbelly of Shadow IT.  It’s their last, best hope.

It’s this kind of scenario that keeps some small business out of the enterprise software space altogether.

The root cause: the enormous manpower necessary to implement, maintain and change enterprise IT systems.  Power to change must shift back to business, where it belongs.  Business transformation is evolutionary in nature, and allowing business to evolve without artificial boundaries is key.  Shadow IT may very well be the bridge needed to achieve this transformation.  Business will be happy to have control again, and IT will be happy to not have to deal with all that icky people stuff.

So, are you in the shadow?