Shadow IT is generally defined as people outside of IT doing IT tasks or making IT-related investments. This is often seen thorough the development of an application in a tool such as Excel or Access, the creation of new functionality in existing tools, or the purchase of entirely new systems. While the creation of Shadow IT is outside the purview of the IT department, it is the IT department that is eventually required to support the new or modified application.
The Bane of IT
In many cases, Shadow IT is perceived as a problem for the IT department. The most common IT engagement occurrences are when we discover that an associate or employee has created an application that sits out a network share and the application fails at the worst time of the month, then requires weekend and midnight hours to resolve; alternatively, an individual may have purchased a department-critical software suite that needs to integrate with other systems in the enterprise, but no integration was foreseen or scoped causing an impediment to an essential process; or an employee has developed a non-standard application that the department has become reliant upon, then leaves the company and the IT team inherits an application that was not built according to standards or in a technology that IT is able to support.
In all scenarios, these Shadow IT applications become an added weight on an already overstressed IT team, and increases the financial burden of our application portfolio.
Or Could it Be the Savior?
If the root cause of the problem is that individuals need better tools to do their jobs, then how do we solve for that root cause? When we look at application portfolio management (APM) and the basis for an application strategy, what we really want to do is classify ideas. We first want to identify ideas. Then, we want to test those ideas so we can review and measure them to identify the best ideas. We then want to invest our valuable and scarce time and resources into the best potential ideas so we can get the maximum amount of value out of them.
Shadow IT is generating ideas. As an IT organization, we need to embrace that capability and find a way to help the business continue to generate new ideas. We then must solve our own problem of how to support those ideas and inherit their value so we can add value to what we have already created. We need to combine our expertise in software and technology to augment their business idea and partner together to produce the most value. That is the purpose of APM - to produce a high level of collaboration and partnership between the business and IT for greater overall value.
We rely on Shadow IT to find new ideas but we need to help facilitate new ideas with a framework that includes where to host the applications, how we will measure the applications success, and how we can collaboratively determine which application and which ideas we should invest in further as an organization. With this process in place as a part of an overall APM strategy, we can create a process that is supportable, maintainable, doesn't place additional burden on scarce IT resources, and provides needed value to the business.
To learn more about creating or enhancing an APM strategy, check out our guide, 7 Steps to Getting Started with Application Portfolio Management.