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Embracing Shadow IT


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The concept of shadow or stealth IT in organizations is not new, but it is a topic that is becoming more relevant. According to Gartner’s IT Glossary, shadow IT “refers to IT devices, software and services outside the ownership or control of IT organizations.” As IT professionals, what is our role in shadow IT? Is shadow IT good or bad for an organization?

These are questions IT professionals, directors, and CIOs are asking. IT professionals are no strangers to change, but the technology landscape has changed so dramatically in the past 5–10 years that we need to think about IT in a completely different way.

In 2003, Nicholas Carr wrote a provocative article titled “IT Doesn’t Matter,” published by the Harvard Business Review. Carr’s basic premise was that—while IT reshaped the business landscape—IT became a commodity when the technology became readily available. IT became invisible.

While this article was controversial 12 years ago, it may have predicted the future of IT. Many previously critical IT functions have been defined as commodity, so the question remains: What will IT look like in the near future, and what value will we, as IT professionals, add to our organizations?

With the consumerization of IT and the introduction of BYOD, cloud, SaaS, IaaS, and other readily available IT solutions, we need to ask ourselves where we will add value going forward. While IT used to direct how technology solutions were dispersed throughout organizations and had control of IT budgets, this is changing to the point where some experts question whether there will be such a thing as IT departments in the future. Some industry professionals see IT professionals as being completely embedded within the business, acting as advisors with respect to technology, and each business unit having its own IT budget.

For those of us who have been IT professionals for many years, this might paint a gloomy picture. The reality is that we are at a crossroads. This is a place of tremendous opportunity for IT professionals, should we choose to grasp it. 

The irony is that, while some services are seen as commodities, there is even more complexity in IT today. This paradox presents us with opportunities within the realms of big data, business analytics, data integration, and architecture—just to name a few. We need IT professionals to think strategically and better understand the business they are supporting. In doing this, IT professionals become trusted advisors and help their partners take advantage of new technology.

Some industry experts have suggested that, in order for IT to start thinking more strategically, we must view ourselves differently. The chief information officer becomes the chief innovation officer, while the chief technology officer becomes the chief transformation officer. This change in senior IT leadership could help to drive more innovation throughout IT regardless of whether it is organizationally centralized or distributed.

Significant change is happening today in some organizations, with IT professionals moving into more business-oriented functions or working across business units to facilitate conversations about technology. Former IT-only areas that now cross into the business world—such as privacy, security, and compliance, for example—are critical areas that require better communication and interactions with business partners.

As Jill Dyché stated in her article “Shadow IT Is Out of the Closet” in the Harvard Business Review, “IT can transform itself from ‘we build everything’ to ‘here’s how to build it,’ and thus be viewed as a competency center focused not on technology, but on process creation and refinement.” This transformation will not be easy, but it is a necessary change in order to reinvent IT and remain relevant. Reframe your opinion of shadow IT and embrace it!

With the consumerization of IT and the introduction of BYOD, cloud, SaaS, IaaS, and other IT solutions, IT professionals need to ask where they will add value going forward.

 

Maria Anderson is president of the Independent Oracle Users Group and has more than 20 years of experience in various technical and leadership roles.

 


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