Shining a light on Shadow IT

The landscape of business IT has changed beyond recognition in the past 10 years. We have seen a significant move away from a strict, corporately-mandated infrastructure to a borderless one, dominated by user-owned devices, consumer apps, social media and other forms of shadow IT.

The paradigm shift from control to chaos came as consumer technology outstripped commercial in terms of usability and performance. Mobile and remote working became the norm, rather than the exception, thanks to ubiquitous wireless connectivity and improvements in connection speeds and bandwidth.

As technology became the ultimate business enabler, every user became a stakeholder in IT decision making. The traditional model of IT specifying, purchasing and implementing technology is becoming increasingly irrelevant in a world where 70% of IT spend originates outside of the IT department and two thirds of organisations have embraced BYOD.

Device management is a major challenge for IT since ownership moved outside of the organisation. Whilst the financial burden has been lifted, the resulting complexity is cause for concern. The average business user is accessing the corporate network via three different devices, which are frequently multi-vendor and multi OS.

This situation is really not fair on IT professionals, as they are targeted with maintaining systems performance availability and security across a corporate network that they no longer have complete control over. The very ability to access anything, anywhere on any device that has made life so easy for users is creating issues in terms of complexity, compatibility and security.

The IT landscape is further complicated by the consumerisation of business applications that can be purchased and deployed without involving the IT department, the rapid adoption of video-based services, social media for business and the inexorable growth of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT).

While much of this innovation is driven by the shift towards user-centric technology, IT departments are challenged by too much, too quickly; and are faced with growing complexity, increased risk and a lack of control or oversight.

Here are some worrying stats about the explosive growth of shadow IT that is infiltrating organisations. In a 2016 publication, Gartner estimated that 37% of global IT is now outside of CIO oversight. This shadow IT takes many forms, from systems access via personal devices to public cloud applications and unlicensed file sharing and collaboration tools. (According to ESG, 70% of organisations suspect employees are using personal online file-sharing accounts without corporate approval).

A report published by Cisco earlier this year cited that the number of public cloud services used by an organisation is up to 25 times greater than the number estimated by the IT department.

This trend looks set to continue into the next decade as user-experience dominates adoption and line-of-business budget holders continue to seek business outcomes for their IT spend. This will put IT under even more pressure to deliver performance improvements and cost savings within an environment that is literally out of control.

Some might say that the answer to addressing the shadow IT challenge lies in the Cloud. That relocating all essential data and applications to a Cloud environment will deliver the flexibility, accessibility and security required to deliver on both organisational and user objectives. This is easier said than done for many organisations.

Yes, the Cloud does offer the type of iterative environment where innovation can thrive. However, moving to the Cloud is not something that can be done overnight. There may be certain processes and data sets that need to remain on-premise. There will almost certainly be a fixed asset value for your legacy IT that will need to be offset.

The real answer lies somewhere in between the Cloud and on-premise. Hybrid IT is about optimising your infrastructure to deliver the greatest business value, whether it be old or new, physically located in your premises or in the Cloud.

Each element of your infrastructure has a role to play, but not in isolation. Hybrid IT is also about seamless integration; combining on-premise, public and private Cloud to maximise performance, agility and cost-effectiveness.

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