Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Wide Grey Line

  Shadow IT is a Big, Hairy, Monster that will destroy our organizations if it goes unchecked.  Well, now that we have the drama and high emotion out of the way we can get something done.  First off, Shadow IT is a lot of things but it has been used as a rallying cry for many organizations to destroy it.  Why?  At first, I thought that maybe it was the cool name that made me think of secret agents, with pocket protectors, performing elicit acts of business terror and subversion.  How could any CIO allow any of their people to have such an awesome name as “Covert IT Specialist” or “Shadow IT Operative” when they were stuck with the second best of Chief Information Officer (CIO).
  That could be a clue.  The use of Officer in your title must mean that you are the moral authority and enforcer and therefore must remove these techno-criminals from the public view.  Now that I got that out of my system maybe I can be more ‘realistic’.
Shadow IT is the direct result of the mainstream thinking in the current theories of managing IT in the greater organization.  Today’s IT is all about rules, standards, structure, approval, planning, and execution.  I’m sorry with some of these terms it is hard not to lapse into the spy v spy comic book vision of “Shadow IT”.  Anyway, these structures and policies we claim to hold to in the IT business are mostly geared toward implementing big solutions, big value, and impressive functionality.   When we continue to indulge in the Big Picture of our statement of direction we lose a lot of focus on our primary mission as IT Professionals, namely Customer Service.
  The activities we label as Shadow IT comes from dedicating so many resources to big thinking that we forget that people have needs.  These needs are somewhat systematically being ignored or brushed aside as being non-value-added or too small to be subsumed by a by the Enterprise-class behemoths that we prize in business today.  When these needs go unmet the business customer begins a variable-length journey toward meeting their own needs.  There it is the seed is planted and the insurrection begins.  They find a book, light up their Office programs and discover that they can build the spreadsheet or database that will provide what they lack in actual IT support.
  In such a simple nugget you can see how many such drops in the bucket can add up to a biblical flood of data that your IT group neither controls, nor can support.  But you will eventually, because this scenario is played out daily as the seed grows and the complexity of the need exceeds what the person can do in Excel or Access.  They come to IT for help, only to be chided and turned away for this Shadow IT that we don’t support.  Then the next stage of the game starts.  The business unit see the value they have from their efforts and enlists (hires) a new worker that is a little out of place.  He has IT skills, yet is titled as “Admin Support Specialist”.  Better yet the business manages to find assets in the IT organization that are sympathetic to their cause and give unofficial support or guidance to them to make their lives easier or to earn good will in other areas.  Please welcome the covert IT specialist.
  This is the tipping point where our organizations begin to try to control or stamp out the Shadow IT and all it children.    But just like history shows us, attempts to eradicate desirable efforts, people or ideas just drive them underground, or into the shadows.  When efforts are made to disassemble or dismantle a good idea in the business and no effort is made to replace it with a viable alternative, you get just one thing.  Resistance.
So now we come to the ‘How do we solve it?’ question or expectation of the narrative.  Now, there are a number of really well thought out articles out there that can give advice on how to control, or defeat the hairy monster.  But many never tell you the truth that you can never fully win.  So now why don’t we embrace it?  Hell, expect and prepare for it.  The real truth is that the business customer knows what they need.  Not just their managers, the workers.  These people are very good at finding ways to fulfill their needs that is why we are talking about Shadow IT.
  What these people don’t know at first is that if solving some of these challenges with technology were as easy as all that we would not have IT.  We would not be needed.  The fact here is that we are needed but the big thinking is getting in the way of IT being focused on our customers’ needs and helping to solve them.  So, why not find a common ground. 
  If we found tools that could be more standardized, yet allow the business to create something for their needs.  What if we dedicated resources to work at this front?  Added an extra person here and there to our organizations to share the load and open time of our professionals to be that specialist and guide to these efforts.  Would that not be preferable to this perceived endless war of trying to pull the vile tree out by the root?
  My point in all of this is that the seeds of Shadow IT are planted every day and our effort might be better expended in growing ideas rather than trying to prevent them.  My challenge to the CIO at large is to decide to be there when the seed is planted and then decide to cultivate that new effort and shape it to the benefit of the organizations you serve.

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