More people than ever are talking about “shadow IT” nowadays.  As the name implies, it’s mysterious, perhaps even malevolent by some people’s standards.  From a traditional IT vantage point, this negative view may be somewhat justified given the risks it creates around security, compliance, productivity, and technology investment.

But let’s look at it from another perspective. Shadow IT is on the rise because more people outside of IT are gaining awareness and access to technology, and harnessing it as a business differentiator. More importantly, many of these people are business leaders with growing budgets that align to their priorities. Here’s how much technology budget growth business leaders expect in the next year:

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Over the next year how will your group’s technology budget change 

Source: Cisco Business and IT Priority Survey results

No wonder some IT people view shadow IT negatively – their budgets are relatively flat, while the technology budgets of their business peers are growing – very quickly in some cases. But there’s also a huge opportunity here, provided we can simply embrace the change that’s happening all around us now.

Here are some suggestions for transforming shadow IT:

  • Get Involved – engage earlier in the planning process with your business counterparts when business needs are prioritized and innovation discussions begin, so you can catch shadow IT projects before they happen.
  • Prioritize – If someone starts a shadow project outside your group, find out how their priorities and yours align or differ. Knowing how your projects directly serve those priorities is critical for this discussion. To see these priorities for several industries, take 3 minutes to complete our Business and IT Priority Survey. At the end you’ll see these priorities for selected industries, and how they align to yours (or not).
  • Connect the dots – identify the business priorities and outcomes for all technology spending in your organization. If there aren’t any, help define them. Here are some examples:
Business Priority Business Outcome Solution
Revenue growth Grow revenues with new mobile apps that deliver personalized services and offers to customers Cisco Connected Mobile Experiences
Customer Satisfaction Increase staff responsiveness and customer satisfaction by improving performance, reliability and security of multi-channel cloud/mobile apps. Cisco Unified Access
Profitability Reduce costs and gain simplicity by running your applications on a right-sized network that delivers great user experiences over any connection. Cisco Intelligent WAN
Innovation Accelerate new business models and processes by connecting people, processes, data, and things -from factory floors, healthcare facilities, transportation systems, energy grids, and much more Internet of Things
  • Focus on outcomes – go beyond translating business requirements into technical ones. Get more business context to make decisions that drive better business results.
  • Meet half way – If your knowledge about the business matches your counterparts’ knowledge about technology, great teamwork and results can happen.
  • Look ahead – many shadow projects begin with a tactical business issue. Offer alternative solutions that solve the immediate business need plus several more beyond that using an architectural approach that gives you more agility, scalability and manageability longer term.
  • Watch Your Assets – since many shadow IT projects create compliance issues, become an expert in this area and consult with your business peers on best practices for SOX, PCI, HIPPA, FISMA, etc.
  • Innovate – the Internet of Things (IoT) presents a great opportunity to leverage your IT expertise new business areas such as operations, power management, automation, etc. Lead an IOT assessment for your organization.
  • Be agile – Small cross-functional teams using agile methods can make a big impact. Start or join one of these groups and apply agile software development, agile marketing, and business-agile enterprise principles. According to MIT, return on equity, assets, and investment are all higher in companies that use these practices.

As more tech-savvy business leaders look for creative solutions, shadow IT may simply transform into business technology, with projects initiated by any number of groups within an organization, and budget based on measurable business outcomes. The question is, what role will traditional IT play in that scenario?

For more blogs in this series, click here.


Marlowe Fenne

No Longer with Cisco