Only the Shadow Knows….

MP900387501They’re not inviting me to their meetings! One of my business analysts was expressing frustration with the group he’d been assigned to support. How could he help guide their investment decisions if he wasn’t at the table? He knew the group had acquired services directly from an Internet provider and bypassed the IT department. What else were they doing that he didn’t know about?

That story happened several years ago. My response to him was that you get invited when the business perceives you are adding value. Stop whining. Stop complaining and banging your head against the wall. One of my favourite questions: How flat does the side of your head need to get before you change your approach?

You need to change the response from “No” to “What are you trying to do?”. From “No” to “How can I help?”. From “No” to “I have an idea – we’ve been working with department X on a new service that I think will work for you too.

view of a shadow of a womanSince the introduction of personal computing, accessing technology has become increasingly demystified for the business user. Add the Internet, the tablet, apps galore, the cloud, and the business has reasons to question the need for formal IT in an organization. The concept of Shadow IT has been around for most of my career. Why do we keep getting it wrong?

As a CIO, I was always supportive of Forrester’s Business Technology approach. Linda Tucci interviewed Marc Cecere from Forrester who indicated the business will take on a lot of the job of procuring and developing business apps, and the IT department’s most important job will be putting “the guardrails in place so people don’t make bad mistakes acquiring technology”. Jill Dyche supported this view, saying IT needs to transform itself from “we build everything” to “here’s how to build it”.

With all of this great advice, I ask again, why do we keep getting it wrong?

CIOs seem reluctant to take responsibility for Shadow IT, looking to blame others for creating these ‘unfortunate’ situations. Case in point, Michael Hickins recently reported from the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. At the Symposium one CIO labeled it Cockroach Technology because it is proliferating at a rapid rate. Opinions were mixed, with many CIOs calling out the cloud vendors for marketing directly to the business. But there remain some that contend IT should take the blame for not being responsive to the business.

I agree.

As CIOs we need to lose the paternalistic attitude that only we know best. Do we truly understand the nature of the business we support? Do we know how much risk is acceptable in the delivery of IT services? Have we found and understood that balance between reliable services and responsiveness?

Cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) are the new technology disrupters that have democratized technology for the business users. The PC disrupted in the past and there will be other technologies in the future that will do the same. As Jonathan Sapir noted in his recent book:
Shadow IT can no longer be thought of as a nuisance to be shut down or tolerated. It is here to stay, and in order to be effective, Shadow IT must be brought out of the shadows and into the light, where it can grow and flourish – and ultimately evolve into a collaborative Business IT.

Getting from wrong to right means examining how we as CIOs perceive our role. We misconstrue our role in controlling the IT function as controlling all IT. Our role is to ensure reliable availability of IT services. When the business feels the need to acquire, build, or deliver its own IT services, we have not fulfilled our mandate.

We shouldn’t be afraid of Shadow IT. But we should be concerned that the business believes they need it.