Historically, in every economic system, it’s been easy to tell who the boss is. They are the one who controls the resources. The pharaoh controlled the granaries, the noble controlled the land where the serfs toiled, and the industrialist owned the machines clanking away in the 19th-century factory.
Managing and controlling IT production
The boss has owned the means of production, which in turn has made the company possible. For any of these historical periods, one may ask: why didn’t the worker just go off by himself and start his own farm or factory? The answer is always the same: either the rules of the society prevented it, or the worker couldn’t afford to.
Powerful services at scale
Recent decades have seen two developments that have changed this situation. The first is a massive influx of operational technology. Even an unskilled office worker must navigate disparate applications and platforms, leading to workflow processes that require an unholy union of systems from separate vendors that were never intended to work together. The second development is the availability of powerful services at scale. So, we now have: a) a lot of technical red tape, the nature of which is understood only by the people who deal with it directly, and b) vendors outside the organization, offering to help solve those problems inexpensively.
In this situation, the executives are no longer really driving their own business. As employees find their own ways to resolve a thousand picayune issues that the ostensible leaders seldom hear about, the fabric of the company starts to dissolve. If there isn't a basic agreement on what type of resources to use and how to use them, then how can there be any expectation of implementing strategy?
What we do in the shadows
I remember a time when I was working as a middle manager for a big corporation. I had some files that I needed to upload to an external-facing server. My department was not typically given server access, so I requested it from IT. But IT, as it turned out, did not have a process in place to provide efficient server access to non-developers. They obviously feared that giving me an FTP login would be opening a can of worms. So they stalled. Meanwhile, my project suffered.
One day, I took out my personal credit card, set up an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account, and uploaded the files I needed there. It worked. Nobody knew the difference, and IT, who didn’t understand my project anyway, was happy that I stopped pestering them. Over the course of the project, I paid AWS less than I would have spent on a single lunch. Yes, I was spending my own money on the company’s behalf without hope of reimbursement, which was ridiculous. And yet, it was worth it, just as it’s sometimes worth it to bring your own chair or monitor into the office, when what you need isn’t being provided for you.
The rise of shadow IT
What I was doing is now called “shadow IT”: the provisioning of data services, from outside the organization, by someone who has given up on getting them from the inside. As all enterprises morph into data companies, and ordinary workers are increasingly confronted with problems and limitations inherent in IT-sanctioned tools, shadow IT is becoming increasingly common.
Another situation where shadow IT often comes into play is inter-enterprise work spaces. Traditional corporate IT systems are designed only for internal access, but modern work styles often include intensive collaboration with external vendors, contractors, and partners. So there’s a need for systems that allow access across corporate boundaries.If those systems don't become part of the enterprise at a high level, they will find their way in anyway, via frustrated employees further down the chain.
How CIOs can replace shadow IT with extended IT
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Good CIOs, with an awareness of their organizations and what scalable cloud technology is capable of can replace shadow IT with extended IT. This means getting on the DevOps bandwagon: facilitating fast, simple access to IT services (including hybrid clouds) without a long, drawn-out, ticket-based system for procuring IT resources.
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