CIO's must embrace shadow IT

Consumer focused services like Dropbox are already being used by your employees, the challenge is to figure out how to embrace them effectively.


A November 2014 451 Research study confirms Dropbox has become the most popular sync and share product in the enterprise, with 40 percent of IT pros saying their company uses it.


Today’s workforce is accustomed to the convenience and versatility of services like Dropbox as it looks around for easy and convenient ways to be productive in their work from wherever they happen to be. They will use convenient consumer solutions that work in preference to any over-complex enterprise solution that doesn’t work reliably.


Ebsco Industries CIO, Mike Gorrell, says Dropbox emails him every week to tell him 400 of his employees already use the free version of the service – even though Gorrell wants employees to use Microsoft OneDrive.“IT is for the masses now,” he said. “Anybody can do anything”.


This is the world of shadow IT, a world where employees choose their own applications.


“Enterprise employees use Dropbox and Google because they are consumer products that are simple to use, can be purchased without officially requesting new infrastructure or budget expenditure, and can be installed quickly on your own device without the involvement of IT,” observes Gartner analyst, Valdis Filks.


In shadow IT, employees use tools they use at home to do their job, while IT is concerned at the lack of remote wipe, account transfer, and audit logs, identity management, encryption of content within these tools, according to Constellation Research.


“Lack of security is the main issue, this includes data protection, ID and password management. Security and FSS [file sync and share] are diametrically opposed; security restricts access whereas FSS provides access to information,” says Filks.


“IT hasn’t embraced the change that modern technology has enabled,” writes Constellation analyst, Brian Katz. “They [IT] are stuck in the era of control and live in a world where security FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) is thrown around faster than monkeys having a poop fight. When you are taught that shadow IT can only lead to security breaches and harm to the company that’s all you find,” says Katz.


The challenge isn’t preventing use of these solutions within the enterprise – the solutions are already in use and stamping usage out is a headache in itself. It makes more sense to look into integrating these services securely within enterprise deployments.


“Put simply, they need to ensure that enterprise-class applications not only have the same ease-of-use as those they become accustomed to as consumers, but that they also have to provide the level of security that these same individuals have come to expect in their working lives,” said Claire Galbois-Alcaix, Cloud Solutions Director at Accellion.


“For most IT organizations, resistance is futile,” says Gartner VP, Simon Mingay. “Better to embrace it and acknowledge that employee IT and digital skills in the increasingly digital workplace are an opportunity to innovate and create more value from IT and digital investments.”


This is a headache for IT today, but these consumer-based services are beginning to develop and provide tools to help improve enterprise deployments – OneDrive and Microsoft; Box Developer Edition or the API’s Dropbox provides to help enterprise developers integrate its features within their software.


“Shadow innovation is an opportunity for IT to become more relevant. They learn to follow the FUN principle (focus on the user needs) and enable their users and yet they take the precautions to do it securely,” writes Katz.


Analyzing the analysis, it seems inevitable that rather than outlawing use of third party services such as Dropbox, IT must adopt an advocacy role, figuring out what employees need and supporting them to use these solutions securely, or to provide alternative solutions the employees will also like, and use.


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Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.