Shadow IT Is Becoming Normalized. Here’s Why That’s OK.

For IT professionals, the term “shadow IT” can instantaneously induce stress and paranoia. What unsanctioned tools might line-of-business employees be using? Are they putting the company at risk in the name of convenience?

But what if I told you that rather than patrolling and preventing shadow IT, you should treat it as an opportunity?

Frontline employees’ work and efficiency depends on using streamlined, user-friendly tech — especially since that’s what everyone is accustomed to in their personal computing and mobile device use. Why should IT stand in the way of employees getting the tools they need?

Rather than mandating what tech employees can use and how they use it, IT should empower teams with the flexibility to choose their tools — and manage this use alongside enterprise security needs.

Taking action to embrace shadow IT

Organizations shouldn’t punish employees for choosing the technology that will allow them to do their jobs better. Ultimately, this approach not only inconveniences employees — it also negatively impacts the business bottom line.

Rather, IT leaders should ask themselves how they can better equip line-of-business workers to safely access the tech they need to work efficiently. Here are some ways they can start.

  • Work closer with frontline teams – In order to understand the needs of employees across different teams, IT decision makers should work in closer proximity to those who are using the tools. That way, they can get a better sense of each team’s unique struggles so they can work with them to proactively define new company-sponsored tools or processes. Without IT making an effort to understand teams’ pain points, employees will continue to solve their problems on their own without leaning on IT to help them do it in a company-approved and secure way.
  • Redefine the application management process – When employees engage in shadow IT, the enterprise’s security experts don’t have insight into the risk the organization faces — even though it’s their job to manage that risk. And employees don’t loop IT into their use of a new tool because they fear IT will take it away. But if IT can create a new and more open process for employees’ tech preferences to be seriously considered, employees will be more likely to turn to IT’s help. Creating this process involves documenting a new and structured workflow for applying for a new enterprise-sponsored tool, wherein IT works with the employee to weigh the pros and cons of the platform’s security elements and usefulness.
  • Keep an open mind – The top-down mindset needs to shift from “how we want employees to work” to “how employees can do their best work”. In an age of a tech talent crisis and a candidate-driven job market, every organization has a strong incentive to retain its workers. They can’t afford to lose valuable employees over an element the organization has the power to change — the quality of their platforms and tools.

Today’s frontline employees have different expectations for how their work tools should function. With everyone accustomed to a simple and streamlined user experience, today’s employees won’t stand for performing their entire job in a clunky program that requires months of training and slows down their work.

A lack of power when working with poor tech tools spurs the employees’ tendency to seek out new solutions and subject the organization to avoidable risk. But IT leaders have the capability to end the solo search for new tools. By rethinking how to work with employees in order to feel their technology needs, IT has the power to equip each employee with what they need while also protecting the organization’s security.

is chief evangelist at Nintex. Ryan has 20-plus years of global IT experience and is responsible for defining Nintex's product strategy to help people solve business process problems. Ryan holds degrees in computer science and psychology from Victoria University of Wellington.