Rise of Shadow IT

The phrase shadow IT is one of the current buzz words in business technology but in reality the concept is nothing new.  It describes the situation where technology is implemented by individual employees or even departments without the knowledge of managers or the IT departments.

Although it’s a huge current subject of discussion,  shadow IT is certainly not a new concept.  Indeed employees have been using their own workarounds for years in a variety of situations. Just think of how many people will download company data or emails to a USB stick for example or find some handy software tool to accomplish a task.

The scale though is growing, and due to certain factors the use of shadow IT is starting to pose even greater risks to modern businesses.  One of the factors is the rise of the ‘cloud’ where it’s easy to buy technology services on demand without the approval of the IT department.  This also effectively bypasses the relevant decision makers who will normally be notified by a process within IT for approval.

The problem with individuals making their own IT decisions are many, and there are also huge implications to the business as a whole.  For example the majority of businesses have approval and quality systems to ensure any applications are fit for purpose before being implemented.  It’s important to evaluate an application’s security, functionality and impact on other parts of the business before adopting it.   There’s nothing more disconcerting for an IT support person being asked to ‘fix’ a problem with an application that they have no knowledge of simply because it’s been adopted by this backdoor route.

Many applications can cause real compatibility issues when used to modify or update data for example.  Also badly written network enabled applications can also flood networks with all sorts of traffic.  IT departments try to standardize applications within an organisation for very good reasons, one being that it makes support much simpler and manageable.  The social media department might have decided that using the latest marketing tools like this Instagram promotional tool called Jarvee is essential but applications like this need infrastructure behind them to make them work.   Many of the 24/7 marketing applications can consume huge amounts of bandwidth which may not be available on a busy network.

The most serious concern though is security.  It’s often an after thought in the minds of application and software developers but it’s a crucial issue for any business.  Introducing any application into an environment has an element of risk particularly in this age when most are network aware.  Many applications and computer software will instantly attempt to perform network updates or download patches or upgrades.  Potentially introducing all sorts of ‘rogue’ software components onto a network.

It’s probably largely because technology has become so important to our lives that we feel we can make this decisions ourselves.  The problem is that when you use any new application on someone else’s network it has potentially huge implications.  Many users are of course, well aware of this, but choose to disregard this.  One of the common example is when people use things like use proxies for Ticketmaster or watching films at work, or just in order to access websites or applications that they know will be blocked.

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