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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

And the organisation's approach to IT has changed. Technology is now fundamental to what most organisations do; it has moved from supporting the back office to driving revenue streams at the front of the business.

An increasing number of other functions want, and need, to have a say in technology decisions and many now have their own IT budgets. It will eventually become the norm for other functions to be spending more than the IT department on technology. Shadow IT has come out of the shadows; it is now official, sanctioned and, in many cases, necessary.

CIO attitudes towards shadow IT have also been changing over the last few years - although perhaps not as quickly as the rest of the business. In fact, the relationship between CIOs and shadow IT maps very well to the classic change curve.

Stage 1 - denial - saw most IT leaders reject the suggestion that shadow IT was even happening in their organisation. This was followed by stage 2 where denial turned to anger and the IT function actively fought against any unsanctioned technology activity.

In stage 3 - the bargaining or acceptance stage - CIOs acknowledge that shadow IT exists within the business and that it will continue to do so. They talk about embracing shadow IT but also talk about how to control what other functions are doing. In other words they - they accept that it has to happen but only if it happens on their terms.

Stage 4 is about learning; CIOs at this point actively engage with shadow IT teams and seek to understand why it exists, what they can learn from it, and how they and their department can work with these other groups. This can be a difficult stage with the CIO learning some harsh lessons about the service the IT function provides and where it may be lacking in terms of skills and capability to support the rest of the business.

In the fifth and final stage, CIOs not only accept that other functions have to be involved in technology decisions, have their own budgets and need their own IT skills, but actively embrace, encourage and facilitate this happening. At this point there is no such thing as shadow IT. All IT activity - wherever it happens and whoever is leading it - is official. CIOs that reach this stage have made the final step from gatekeeper to broker.

They have worked out how to influence, guide and facilitate what other functions are doing without having control or the ability to say no. And they are comfortable with this model as they realise that it enables them to focus on more important and value-adding activities.


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