Shadow IT – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Frank Coleman By Frank Coleman Senior Director, DELL EMC Services March 19, 2013

I wrote last year about how Shadow IT exists in every company at some level, whether or not you want to admit it. These groups often develop out of necessity: IT always needs more funding, the business always needs more out of IT…and there you have it, the classic standoff. What this means for your company falls into 3 categories: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good – In tech companies you have highly technical resources working within the business who can often deliver what the business wants at a fraction of the IT-quoted costs. These people not only have the technical skills but also the contextual understanding to directly address the business problem – and most importantly, the ability to execute quickly.

The Bad – The business will find a way with or without IT help. Many times these business-line Shadow IT people can create a solution but they don’t have the IT infrastructure to support it. Business-critical or sensitive data ends up sitting in an Access or SQL table on a lab machine – or worse, sitting under someone’s desk.

The Ugly – The biggest risk of Shadow IT is the reliance on individuals. When a Shadow IT person leaves they take everything with them – and their solution will eventually fail with no one to maintain it. The second a change happens in the business, the Shadow app dies because no one knows how to adjust it. This can have a devastating impact if the Shadow app has become business-critical.

So what are we supposed to do? Whichever side of the standoff you’re on, you can always stop fighting and address the issues of why Shadow groups exist, and why IT is concerned. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company such as EMC that acknowledges the value of Business Intelligence Competency Centers (BICC) within the business but wants to manage the risk. As a result, IT has set up “Analytic Sandboxes” for various teams. Simple things such as moving the databases or equipment to an IT-supported environment can make a huge difference.

If you’re in a Shadow IT group, reach out to IT to ask for help. If you’re in IT, reach out to the Shadow groups to help them. A few quick tips for Shadow groups out there:

  1. Get on the IT roadmap – this will require executive sponsorship in most cases
  2. Ask IT for application hosting – products such as those from VMware have made this easier
  3. Leverage powerful platforms such as Greenplum for your database needs
  4. Reduce the single point of failure – make sure you have more than one expert
  5. Use established third-party tools – don’t re-create the wheel
  6. Limit custom code – and make sure it’s documented
  7. Set up a BICC – with regular meetings including IT

Let’s face it, Shadow IT will probably never go away. The business should look to leverage their knowledge but reduce the risk associated with their work. Let me know if you have done something similar or have other suggestions for handling this standoff situation.

Frank Coleman

About Frank Coleman

Senior Director, DELL EMC Services

Frank is a Senior Director of Business Operations for Dell EMC Services. He is living the world of Big Data in this role, as he is responsible for using advanced data analytics to improve the customer experience with Dell EMC’s services organization.

This role keeps Frank immersed in Big Data, and he is at the cutting edge of using Big Data to solve real business problems. Frank has a strong blend of technical knowledge and business understanding, and has spent the last nine years focused on the business of service.

Under his leadership, EMC was honored in mid-2012 for the third consecutive year with the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) STAR Award for “Excellence in the Use of Metrics and Business Intelligence.” Prior to joining EMC, Frank worked in various fields and remote technical support roles.

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