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There's no such thing as Shadow IT

Ian Cox | July 13, 2016
Gone are the halcyon days as the CIO as a gatekeeper; CIOs must embrace their roles and expertise as technology brokers

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Ion Cox

Headlines and surveys about shadow IT and the measures that CIOs should take to control technology expenditure outside of their budgets are still commonplace.

And, whilst the exact level of shadow IT activity may be difficult to quantify and will vary across different organisations, one thing is clear: technology budgets held by non-IT functions are increasing and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Shadow IT is not new, of course. Ever since IT departments have existed, there has been some kind of technology-related activity taking place away from their prying eyes.

Originally, this unofficial IT tended to be limited to someone with a penchant for Access databases, enthusiastic individuals arranging vendor demos or a manager trying to buy IT equipment on company expenses.

More often that not, however, this was done with good intentions and was usually borne out of a need that was not being met by the central IT function (albeit sometimes for good reasons).

In those halcyon days, CIOs had a firm grip on all technology activity and expenditure; when a locally developed database was discovered - usually because it had become business critical and then experienced an outage - it would be absorbed by the IT function and migrated to a corporate standard database with all the relevant back-up, documentation, support and security provisions added.

The CIO was the gatekeeper to the company's network and servers and hence could reject requests to purchase systems that other departments wanted to use on the grounds of standards, support, skills, cost, database, operating system, priorities, security, vendor size, or whatever other reason they could think of to keep control of the technology landscape.

And, in most organisations, it was simply not possible for another department to bypass the IT function by directly purchasing technology; only the IT function could raise orders for technology and, if another department tried to purchase IT equipment or services, this would be trapped by the Finance department and referred to IT for review and approval.

And, just in case a department was tempted to hide technology expenditure under a non-IT account or cost code, the company's procurement policies (often at the insistence of IT) made it clear that such an action would be treated as a disciplinary offence.

But the world has changed. In the last five years or so, shadow IT has moved to a whole new level. Technologies such as mobile and cloud have made it a lot easier for non-IT functions to access technology solutions and services without the need to go near the company's servers.

Apps can be installed on mobile devices in a matter of seconds, and cloud-based solutions can be accessed without IT even knowing.


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