As businesses, we all have a need to get things done; to deliver a service, to manufacture goods, to achieve whatever delivers on our raison d’etre. As such, each business needs a set of well-structured and efficient systems and processes that help operational teams to do their jobs, right?

But, in a demanding business environment, what happens when those systems and processes fail to keep pace with the needs of each team?

Typically, this is where the IT department builds up a backlog while they search for a new solution, and the business teams naturally start to find their own workarounds.

This is an inevitability. It’s driven by necessity more than a burning inclination toward mutiny!

So what does shadow IT look like? How do you recognise it?

The ‘shadow’ label, by definition, means we’re dealing with behaviours and initiatives that may be hard to spot, especially if one is somewhat removed from the team in question; but typical examples might include…

  • circumventing existing systems, reverting to email and spreadsheets instead
  • introducing new collaboration tools such as Slack or Hangout, without central approval
  • adopting a new, lightweight project management platform, such as Basecamp or Trello, again, without approval
  • connecting systems together, using workflow automation tools such as Zapier
  • signing up to multiple services from one month to the next; doing their own haphazard IT research and development.

As you can see from these examples, very often people know enough to roll up their sleeves and put together some sort of solution, and often their workarounds are effective and inventive. These well-intentioned proponents of the so-called ‘shadow IT’ department have the honourable goal of getting their jobs done and moving things forward, when nobody else is able to help.

…and what’s wrong with that?

Well, ultimately, these short-term workarounds do come at a price and something important will be compromised, knowingly or otherwise. You cannot rely on serendipity to achieve the requisite levels of compliance, security or cohesion.

Typically, the downsides might be…

  • the ‘real’ IT department will lose track of what applications are in use by the business
  • the business will lose track of where its data is
  • security will get compromised (dare we even write ‘gee-dee-pee-are’?)
  • multiple people or sub-teams will simultaneously be attempting to carve their own solutions, creating further inefficiency
  • frustrations will bubble to the surface and manifest, one way or another, into something ugly or catastrophic.

So, what are the solutions?

If IT departments and CTOs are genuinely searching for the right digital solutions to support business processes, it will necessarily take time.

In our view, one very compelling solution is to bring shadow IT out of the shadows and into the light, by equipping all business teams with a platform to build their own tools, within a legitimate, transparent and controlled environment. Like a sandpit, but where the solutions can quickly become real, working applications.

What you then have, is an empowered army of legitimised ‘citizen developers’, rather than a subversive shadow IT department working against you.

This is effectively what Podio (by Citrix) gives you. It’s a platform whereby any team can create its own workspaces, apps and solutions, but within a unified environment. Therefore, empowered business users never need to go wildly off-track, espousing entirely separate systems (thereby putting company data in places it shouldn’t be).

Learn more about Podio at our sister site: ovalstudio.co.uk

Also, because it has a consistent and predetermined interface, the focus is on getting the right structure and workflows in place, rather than tinkering too much with layout, styling or colours. Furthermore, any app can be connected to any other app in any other workspace. So, when you do need to consolidate, join or centralise data, it’s easy to do so.

Of course, no enterprise really wants a boundless free-for-all, so proper governance and guidelines should be introduced as you see fit. But, in principle, providing the platform to empower citizen developers with access to low code (or mostly no code) custom applications, is a smart move. ‘Freedom within a framework’ would sum it up.

And remember, if you or any of your teams get stuck, cost-effective help is available!