Shadow IT is on the rise, thanks to the incredible pace of innovation in cloud-based apps and technology aimed at boosting productivity.
What once was limited to a handful of unapproved software installations and excel macros has grown into a vast, somewhat overwhelming issue for IT departments all over the world. Whilst there are clear benefits of many of the applications that fall under the ‘shadow IT’ category, there are also some considerable risks.
Let’s take a closer look at what shadow IT is, why it’s so problematic for companies and what actions businesses can take to protect their systems, data and compliance processes.
What is Shadow IT?
Shadow IT is a term used to describe any IT project that takes place outside of the IT department, usually without the knowledge of IT staff. Typically, Shadow IT services include cloud-based, SaaS applications, the likes of Evernote and Dropbox.
Cloud-based services offer obvious benefits for employees, and are therefore very often installed and used without any form of consultation with IT departments. Whilst this does help to lighten the workload of overstretched IT teams, it also means that software and hardware isn’t subject to the IT department’s strict checks before installation. This can mean significant exposures in terms of security and compliance, both of which remain the responsibility of the company’s IT department.
The rise of Shadow IT
The rise of Shadow IT is largely down to the fast-paced development of apps targeting consumers, from file sharing apps to collaboration tools and social media. These apps have been designed with specific productivity in mind, and offer an effective, time-saving solution to many everyday tasks.
Ambitious employees never take their eye off the latest news from the technology world, and early adopters have quickly grasped the opportunities that cloud-based, SaaS applications offer their industries.
Subscription-based software such as Dropbox and Hubspot is designed with usability in mind, and can therefore be easily installed without the assistance of an IT professional. This has resulted in a rapid upsurge in the amount of applications bypassing the strict testing processes of IT departments, and finding its way onto the IT systems of companies.
Shadow IT is already a huge issue for many corporations, and it’s set to become a much bigger problem over the coming years.
As we look forward to the increase in availability of 5G, we can expect to see the prevalence of cloud-based applications skyrocket. This will result in far more devices and endpoints for enterprise systems, and far greater security and compliance risks. Gartner has even suggested that the number of endpoints managed by the average CIO will triple by 2023.
Shadow IT risks you need to know about
The risks associated with shadow IT are considerable. From data leaks and security issues to inefficient processes and costly downtime, shadow IT can cause huge headaches for IT professionals in the event of an emergency. These are some of the key risks to consider:
One of the main problems with the increase in use of shadow IT applications is security. The installation of applications that are not tested and checked by IT professionals can cause vulnerabilities for the entire company’s network, resulting in potential data leaks and costly downtime.
For approved software and applications, IT departments invariably use a backup and restore strategy. However, this does not apply to services that staff are unaware of. In these cases, there may be no backup available at all, and sensitive data therefore could be lost. Data losses may not be recoverable, and inevitably result in a vastly inflated workload for many key team members as the company struggles to reach a solution.
Almost all businesses now hold incredibly sensitive data, which is used to improve service and better inform growth strategies. However, this data is sometimes now uploaded to shadow IT services without the knowledge of IT departments. This risky move can result in critical data leaks, and it also leaves the company open to the risk of former employees and unapproved personnel accessing the data.
Companies develop their own compliance rules and processes, usually after extensive research and consultation with skilled professionals. One of the key risks in shadow IT is the bypassing of these compliance rules, which can have catastrophic consequences for the company in question.
How to protect your business from Shadow IT
Many IT departments have the same immediate reaction to shadow IT: banning it. But this isn’t necessarily the best course of action. Forbidding shadow IT services risks cutting communication ties completely, and doesn’t always stop the usage of these services in reality. Instead, take a look at the following three actionable strategies that can dramatically reduce the risks associated with shadow IT.
Communication is vital in any good working relationship. When we look at the rise of shadow IT, a running theme is the lack of effective communication between IT staff and company personnel.
Employees who do not feel supported by their IT departments are more likely to look elsewhere for SaaS solutions to their biggest pain points. Therefore the onus is on IT departments to promote a two-way conversation on cloud-based applications, listening to employees’ requirements and understanding their need for shadow IT services.
It’s then up to IT departments to inform and educate team members on the risks associated with shadow IT, ensuring that all staff work together to reach a safer, more secure solution that speeds up business processes in the same way as popular SaaS applications.
Embrace mobile technology
We all use mobile devices in day to day life, and many of us now reach for our smartphones to fulfil a wide range of business tasks too.
To support employees and halt the rise of shadow IT in your own company, it’s a good idea to offer secure versions of internal applications, designed specifically for employees’ mobile devices.
Making internal applications accessible and safe will eliminate the need for many shadow IT services, and keep data safe as employees work on the move.
Develop new services
Shadow IT services have become so prevalent because they offer faster, better and easier ways of completing time-consuming tasks.
Instead of banning shadow IT services, IT departments must seek to understand which services appeal to their employees – and why. This will enable IT professionals to pinpoint gaps in the services offered by their own internal applications, and fill those gaps with safe, secure software that does exactly what employees need it to.
Keep an eye on the types of apps that employees are using, and ensure that your own services aren’t falling short and depleting productivity.
The rise of shadow IT is a significant problem for IT departments, but it’s not an insurmountable one. By promoting communication and developing effective internal applications that offer the same benefits as shadow IT services, IT departments can manage this rising risk and boost productivity.
This article was written by Henry Umney, CEO of ClusterSeven. Henry has over 25 years of experience and expertise within the financial services and technology sectors. Prior to ClusterSeven, Henry held the position of sales director in Microgen, London and various sales management positions in AFA Systems and ICAP.