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Why it's OK for social collaboration to encourage shadow IT

Matt Kapko | March 4, 2016
The benefits of using social collaboration apps in the enterprise can outweigh the associated security risks if IT professionals strategically monitor and manage them.

Some CIOs cautiously embrace shadow collaboration

Not everyone agrees that IT should be so strict about the social collaboration apps their staffs use.

Marcus Schmidt, senior director of product management at enterprise tech firm West Unified Communications, says apps that enter the enterprise as shadow IT can morph into structured, managed solutions. Single applications with multiple sub-groups, channels or rooms for teams are always preferable, he says, because IT staff can manage employee access and view participation metrics in a single dashboard. "Ultimately, the key to success with social tools is to maximize adoption across the team. That is nearly impossible if there are multiple, competing shadow IT solutions."

Once a collaboration app catches on with a dedicated set of employees, it can quickly spread to other members of the same line of business and result in different apps being used across the enterprise, according to Karim Sadroudine, director of innovation ecosystem at BroadSoft, a unified communications software maker. Unfortunately, it's a trend that's very difficult to contain, Sadroudine says. "I cannot think of an example where a mass movement for a tool or application in the enterprise was ever successfully controlled."

Restrictions on corporate Internet access, and the use of personal email and popular apps such as Facebook are mostly futile attempts to prevent workers from using the tools they prefer, according to Mark Montini, chief results officer at marketing tech firm M2M Strategies. Businesses should endorse their preferred apps and attempt to drive adoption, but also encourage employees to leverage new tools that could prove to be valuable and eventually make it onto the preferred list, he says. "When businesses attempt to control social collaboration in the workplace, it serves to undermine the principles that drive social collaboration in the first place," he says. "The key is to contain, not control social collaboration.

Social collaboration apps are increasingly pervasive in the enterprise, and they often boost the use of shadow IT, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Andrew Horne, IT practice leader at CEB, a technology advisory firm, who calls the trend a "healthy development."

"Often, the problem with collaboration isn't the tool itself but that the team isn't ready to collaborate," Horne says. As such, IT leaders need to prioritize their efforts around supporting collaboration, not forcing employees to use a specific tool.

 

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