The term “shadow IT’ sounds pretty nefarious, and the activities around it certainly can be. But oftentimes it’s a result of company employees just trying to do their jobs more efficiently.

Shadow IT involves the use and management of external technology solutions, such as hardware, software, or cloud applications, without the knowledge of or explicit permission from a company’s IT department.

It’s an issue that’s grown rapidly as cloud computing has become more widely adopted, and it’s increased in prevalence with more and more workers going remote. It could be going on at your business without you even realizing it.

What does shadow IT look like?

Usually, it looks like employees using their personal devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to conduct work activities. Most enterprises these days — 72% — allow employees to BYOD (bring your own device) to work. Other times, employees are using unauthorized cloud-based applications for file sharing, product management or communication — think using Google Docs instead of the company-sanctioned SharePoint, or Slack instead of Microsoft Teams.

It’s easy to understand the why: Employees may feel like the IT department is too overloaded to get to their requests right away, or that the approved technology tools for their jobs are too cumbersome to use.

In addition, your workforce is probably stacked with digital natives: those who grew up with devices in-hand, and who are no strangers to sourcing the most functional, efficient apps and tools. These savvy team members have no qualms about creating their own workarounds or selecting their own digital tools to keep work moving forward.

These “rogue” employees may have a point. In most companies, IT doesn’t operate at the speed of business. Managers have marching orders, and may not feel they have the luxury of waiting for platforms to be discovered, vetted, selected, implemented and deployed via the typical IT procedural route. If they have a budget they can finesse, they’re likely leveraging whatever SAAS application they can get their hands on to meet their objectives.

Is it a risk or an advantage?

Shadow IT is a complex issue, and one that has brought up two primary viewpoints. First, for many CIOs and other leaders, it comes down to security and compliance.

It’s true that there are a number of security risks associated with shadow IT: data theft or misuse, the resulting fines for compliance breaches, and malware attacks, to name a few. One recent survey of remote workers found that 41% access critical and confidential work via unsecured personal applications, and that 49% of employees don’t use a corporate VPN to access company data.

But another perspective has emerged recently, and that is one of “managed shadow IT.” Rather than shutting it down entirely, the concept is to embrace shadow IT because, believe it or not, it has been shown to bring certain benefits: greater alignment between business objectives and technology, greater efficiency and productivity of teams, and even innovation in your business.

The key could be that of flexibility, an approach that allows teams to keep pace with business demands, while still allowing oversight by IT.

What’s Next?

Wondering if you have an issue with shadow IT at your company? At AccountabilIT, we have a wealth of experience helping customers sort out the best solutions for bringing teams and technology together. Contact us today.