Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam explains the phenomenon of Shadow Cloud and what IT departments should do about it.
You're probably familiar with the term "Shadow IT". This is where business users or IT folk create their own applications, reports or datasets which are outside the control of the IT domain. These may be Excel spreadsheets which the business user is using because an official application is too difficult or inconvenient to use (or does not exist); or users could be storing data on USB sticks because it's more convenient.
Shadow IT is not new and has been a well understood, if not well-controlled, business risk for many years.
The challenge is that the Cloud has added fuel to the phenomenon and taken the risk and challenge to a whole new level. With Shadow Cloud, business users can buy whole applications on corporate credit cards and they can store data and documents in DropBox. They can also use a wide range of OTT communications tools that are completely outside IT's control.
If the scale of shadow Cloud is concerning, its implications are even more profound. Rather than being seen as a symptom of errant employees, it is often the sign of an unmet need (or one that is met in a way that doesn't suit the business user).
IT departments will have to:
Get used to the educated business user. The business user of today is very different than that of 10 years ago. They are no longer content to let IT drive; now they want a turn at the wheel. IT is no longer a mystery or a dark art, but simply a tool to achieving business ends (which is what it always should have been). This trend will accelerate as increasing numbers of Digital Natives enter the workplace. Try telling them not to use applications they have grown up with. Try telling them that you, the IT departments, are "the experts". The genie is out of the bottle and you're going to have a hard time putting it back in.
Deal with business users who see tech as a "consumable" - something they buy when they need it and to the level they need it. They are being educated by SaaS and ITaaS to expect more transparency, consumption-based cost models and the ability to be more granular about IT costs. This will have major impacts on how they expect to pay for IT in future.
Understand that patience is so 1997. The business user expects services to be available at their fingertips - they have no patience to wait for extended periods of time. They are used to searching online for what they want and fulfilling their appetites immediately.
Get used to mashups. Users are more experimental and are more willing to be creative with applications and data. If there's a business problem they can solve themselves by creating something new using online resources then they will. This willingness to experiment is a great business asset and trying to eradicate it entirely doesn't make sense.
Grasp that privacy, security and risk isn't necessarily something business users understand in any case. However, Digital Natives are more open about their own lives than previous generations and therefore being cautious about information privacy or security is not a natural attribute.
Don't be under any illusions: Shadow Cloud is happening today in your organisation. At a recent conference I asked for a show of hands on who was using Cloud - about a third of the audience put their hands up. When I asked who was using Skype, DropBox, Google Drive, Facebook etc for business purposes *everyone* put their hands up.
IT cannot expect to hold back Cloud-enabled change - like Canute you will simply be swept away by the tide. However, IT does need to guide, shepherd and educate business users, and provide enterprise grade performance where this is appropriate. Cloud is enabling large amounts of corporate innovation both inside and outside the IT domain, and it's essential that IT is aware of what's going on so that vital corporate knowledge and business value isn't lost. If your IT department's style is to wag fingers and to behave like Dr No, then don't expect anyone to be frank with you. When you're cut out of the innovation loop how will you have influence then?
In short, business users are no longer children who will do what IT says; they are now teenagers set to explore the world, push boundaries and discover how things work. Along the way they're going to make mistakes and they need someone to be there to protect their backs and help them avoid and learn from mistakes.
To play that role, IT needs to adjust its style to accommodate the changing relationship it has with its business users. In the end, Cloud is not just a technical issue, it also heralds profound changes in corporate culture, business processes, budgets and the fundamental relationship between IT and the business.
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