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What should public sector CIOs do about 'shadow IT'?

Glenn Archer, research vice president in Gartner’s public sector team | Feb. 23, 2015
Don't attempt to restrict or contain shadow IT because such an approach will likely fail, says Glenn Archer.

Gone are the days when a government CIO could expect to exercise total control on how their agency invested in ICT.

A recent Gartner survey found that government CIOs are responsible for only about 60 per cent of technology expenditure and that figure shows every indication of continuing to decline.

Enter the sinister world of 'shadow IT' where users buys their own technology services without your approval.

I have discussed this scenario with business leaders who have been quite consistent about their perspective on this shift in how IT procurement decisions are being made.

Typical responses have included, "Excellent news!" and "Can't happen fast enough." In most cases, these responses usually demonstrate an underlying degree of frustration - built up over time -- that IT is unresponsive, not sufficiently innovative or just doesn't understand the business imperative.

Clearly if the business unit can avoid having to deal with the CIO -- or anyone in IT -- by going direct to the vendor/provider they can solve all these problems.

But... and it's quite a concerning 'but', there is indeed a disturbing side to shadow IT.

Gartner believes that in the next two years, more than half of technology procurements initiated outside the IT department will not achieve their intended benefits. Put bluntly, IT does not have a monopoly on making poor technology choices.

Few business leaders, policy staff and program teams have built up the wealth of practical experience that comes from being scarred by one or more technology project failures.

Of course, while that's usually the headline in the press, the reality is often that IT is only a contributor to much larger issues that compromise successful projects. And shadow IT is more likely to accentuate rather than solve these sorts of problems.

From a risk perspective, IT staff members bring practical experience in system integration and in implementing IT-enabled business change, and possess project management skills and contract management expertise. They have also learnt not to take the claims of vendors at face value.

In contrast, business units often independently acquire and deploy new systems and services without the proficiency or oversight needed to successfully manage IT vendor performance or maintain an asset for the duration of its contract.

For instance, there is often little understanding about the need to comply with privacy legislation or with digital record keeping obligations. This situation also becomes particularly problematic where there is a need to integrate the new capability with existing systems.

As a consequence, there is a significantly heightened risk that these IT-enabled initiatives will not achieve the benefits anticipated by the original business case or, when failure becomes the most likely result, will be abandoned. More often, however, the business will seek help from IT to provide its knowledge and expertise to overcome problems.


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