Shadow IT

The Upside of Shadow IT

Tech-savvy employees have long bypassed IT to get their hands on hot technologies. Rather than standing in the way, smart CIOs are now embracing and even encouraging shadow IT. Here's why.

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CNO's T64 application (T64 is short for Turning 64), for example, was developed by the company's independent agents who sell insurance door-to-door, mainly to retirees. The T64 app lets agents see on their mobile devices a list of potential clients who are turning 64 years old, along with directions to the clients' homes.

" 'We're in this together' is now much more than a tagline," says Rick Bauer, a former CIO and now director of product management at CompTIA, a provider of vendor-neutral certifications for IT professionals. "No one else is going to educate the enterprise about using devices in ways that boost productivity and in ways that are safe. IT has got to be a leader in helping people to think about these things."

Find your allies

If you're looking for shadow IT, one of the first places you'll find it is in the sales and marketing department, experts say. These front-line workers have little patience with time-consuming, checklist-laden application development cycles, which is what they have come to expect from IT. They want what they want, and they want it now. So they often gin it up for themselves.

"There's a disconnect between the traditional IT mindset and trying to get out a new application in a timely manner," notes PwC principal Chris Curran. "When a sales guy comes to IT and says, 'We need to get something out there now,' it can't take a year."

Curran advises PwC's clients to make friends with and learn from business users. More than likely, many have already been experimenting, especially with cloud-based apps for analytics and processing big data, he says.

At Genworth, Murray revamped the IT pay structure to reflect the value of building relationships with people outside of IT. As he sees it, knowing your partners in the business is part of IT becoming more agile.

"The core tenet of agile development is that everyone who has a say in a project is in the room interacting with each other," he says. IT staff can't do that if they don't know their business counterparts.

"Behavior tends to follow the compensation structure, so everyone in IT has a goal of relationship-building with business partners," Murray says. "You want to have social equity to trade on. Every project has bumps in the night and when that happens, you want and need the social equity [with your business partners] to cushion you through it," he explains.

In fact, social equity is a key metric during IT employee reviews at Genworth. "If you have someone who is technically excellent, but they've never had lunch with their customer or know what sports their kids play, you haven't succeeded," Murray says. "You haven't become integrated into the [larger] organization."

The bottom line, these CIOs say, is that the corporate technology landscape has changed for good, and the IT organization must change with it. IT must focus on those areas where it can add the greatest value -- providing workers around the corporate edges with secure access to data and tools to innovate -- even if that means application development tools.

"IT's role is to enable people to solve problems on the ground," says CompTIA's Bauer. "The CIOs and IT organizations that will be winners are those that understand that the game has changed in ways that will never revert back to the way IT was before. Like the church of existentialism, we don't quite know where we're going, but we're on our way."

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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