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The upside of shadow IT

Julia King | April 24, 2012
First, a scary statistic: Gartner predicts that in less than three years, 35% of enterprise IT expenditures will happen outside of the corporate IT budget.

"By having early adopters in IT and getting ahead of technologies, users will now come to us when they want to use something like Basecamp [a Web app for storing, coordinating and managing projects]," Broadwater explains. "When they do, we tell them about Central Desktop," which he describes as a similar cloud-based project management service "but with better integration into the enterprise."

Today, Sesame Street co-producers in offices as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan can upload rough cuts of video to the cloud, and producers in New York can edit and annotate it, he says, noting that 30% of expenses within the official IT budget at Sesame Workshop are devoted to cloud services, consumer services and mobile enablement.

"IT used to be dictatorial, issuing edicts and hammering on security, security, security," Broadwater says. "Now, we've moved to where we're a service organization."

Broadwater also notes that what was once considered shadow IT has also saved the company money. For example, the enterprise YouSendIt service, which costs $50,000 for two years, replaced FTP services that were costing $140,000 for the same period. Similarly, before using Central Desktop, staffers were physically shipping hard drives. The cloud-based service has cut those costs by $20,000, Broadwater says.

At Equinix, Lillie set up an "Amazon sandbox" for developers who were buying Amazon's cloud services on their own to develop apps.

Developing apps on Amazon, he says, is great "because it doesn't tax IT's resources. But as opposed to employees pulling out their credit cards and paying for Amazon on their own, why not give it to them? You become part of shadow IT and the lines start to blur," he says. "IT is expanding its influence, and more importantly, you're working as a team."

But there is a downside.

"The challenge is that sometimes when something has been OK'd, then it's not cool," says Lillie. "There's a coolness to being in the shadows, which drives me nuts."

Redefine IT's role as educator and policymaker

"Consumerization of IT is an inevitable reality," says Kraft's Dajani. One of IT's expanding roles in this new world is to develop and implement security and other policies that help rather than hinder employees, regardless of the device they use to do their work.

Kraft, for example, is virtualizing its applications environment so mobile workers in particular can use the device of their choice. "But users have to keep their versions of software up to date, and we keep track of that," Dajani says. "If people are running software on Androids and it's not up to date after 30 days, we lock them out."

"We need to empower employees, but we also need to teach them," he adds.


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