The term "shadow IT" has become a bugbear for IT organizations in recent years, an unknown that brings to mind security vulnerabilities or even suggests IT's creeping irrelevance to the business. But CBS Interactive CIO Steve Comstock says that's the wrong way to think of shadow IT. Instead, he says, IT should view shadow IT as an opportunity to understand the business and how to be an actual partner that understands the business's needs.
"I used to call it dark IT," Comstock says as he opens his keynote presentation at Interop New York. "It was basically the scary monster under my infrastructure, the data going somewhere that we didn't know about, the software being deployed that wasn't being managed."
"The press was saying it's the final nail in IT's coffin," he adds.
But shadow IT is not a new phenomenon, he says. In the late 1990s, he says, employees were using email filters to forward their company email to webmail accounts and departments were asking summer interns to set up departmental servers without IT's knowledge that hosted everything from important company documents to pirated music, videos and Internet cat pictures — but no backups.
"When things went wrong, what did they do? They called us," he says.
A few years later, he says, it was rogue wireless routers connected to the corporate network without corporate knowledge — no encryption, no authentication, just a clear and easy path onto the corporate network.
Shadow IT in a Different Light
The newest form of shadow IT is different, Comstock says. All an employee needs is the ability to use a credit card and to click a service agreement without reading it.
"You can build out any IT service or SaaS service," he says. "I can do this from my home, from my mobile device, and no one is going to know."
That might seem scary, but employees in the business are turning to these alternatives to solve very specific business problems. And they can do so without having to deal with lengthy review processes that inhibit their agility and flexibility.
"The old form of shadow IT gave me so much heartburn, but this doesn't bother me," Comstock says. "I see it as an opportunity to help transform us with the business."
To explain, Comstock refers to his first meeting with a line-of-business manager. After asking about the problems the business was struggling with, he received a stream of jargon that he couldn't decipher. He didn't speak the language of the business.
"We didn't know how to talk to the business," he says. "No one told us how. We were given a mantra with no instructions."
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