Shadow IT and seized opportunities

Without a communicated and shared cloud strategy, corporate IT is forced into a reactive posture when it comes to the cloud


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The late 1930s radio crime drama, “The Shadow,” was best remembered for its opening line: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” In 2012, we face a similar question: “Who knows what cloud lurks in the hearts of men? Shadow IT knows!” And if you are responsible for IT in your organization you need to know what shadow IT knows.

Back in the day, when departments bought Apple IIe computers to run VisiCalc and IBM PCs were bought to run Lotus 1-2-3, it wasn't because corporate IT thought it was a good thing to do. Later, when departments connected PCs into a Local Area Network to share printers and disk drives, it wasn't because corporate IT thought it was a good thing to do either.

In each case, shadow IT seized an opportunity to provide departments with information services that were needed using affordable new technology that was not sanctioned or supported by corporate IT.

Fast-forward to 2012, when anyone can visit an app store in the cloud and download an app to run on their laptop, tablet or smartphone in a minute or two. Today's shadow IT is doing similar things.

Departments are signing up for apps delivered in the cloud and sharing and synchronizing data using a variety of cloud services. If developers need servers to develop and test apps, they go to the cloud and spin them up at Amazon Web Services, Rackspace Cloud or Microsoft Windows Azure.

Where is IT in all of this if departments and employees can provision the information services they need on their own? The answer is behind the curve.

Embrace the cloud

You can see where this is going. Without a communicated and shared cloud strategy and migration plan in place, corporate IT is forced into a reactive posture by shadow IT. Cancel those company credit cards! Download those information assets from the cloud and keep them on premises or else! Telling everyone who is the boss merely asserts formal authority and does not offer users what they need, which is a new model for delivering and using information services.

Why was corporate IT so unaware of shadow IT in the cloud? Maybe they were convinced that this whole cloud thing would just blow over. Maybe corporate IT had the attitude that only the information services they provided were the ones that were really needed. Maybe they didn’t have the time or wherewithal to think about how adopting a cloud model could improve the delivery and use of information services in the organization.

Whatever the reason, corporate IT needs to discover why shadow IT was able to “cloud the minds” of its users. What was it about cloud applications, app development and infrastructure services that was so appealing to employees in various departments?

The answers are really shocking in their simplicity. Cloud services are an operating expense. No need for a capital budget request. Cloud services are easy to provision. You can get started with a credit card, and it doesn’t take months or years to deploy them. Cloud services are use-based subscriptions – you pay for what you use. Cloud services can be accessed anywhere there is an Internet connection using practically any device because the cloud is location and device agnostic.

These are shocking answers because they represent what “business-as-usual” IT is not. Shadow IT was utilizing cloud solutions that made sense to departments. It addressed their needs in ways corporate IT did not.

That said, shadow IT was also probably not paying much attention to things like data protection, identity and access management, governance and regulatory compliance. Shadow IT was more focused on getting something done than making sure its use of the cloud was meeting corporate IT best practices.

So how do shadow IT and corporate IT “cloud their minds” for the good of the organization?

People are attracted to cloud services for the reasons already cited. In light of that, corporate IT needs to embrace the cloud as their information services delivery model for the 21st century. They need to understand and learn how shadow IT found what they needed in the cloud and use that information to help create their cloud strategy and migration plan.

The process of learning to use the cloud will take time, effort and commitment from all parties. Who knows the value of cloud in your organization? Shadow IT knows!

Tim Wessels, cloud navigator at Oort Cloud Computing, Rindge, has worked with small and medium-sized businesses for over 25 years.

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