Shadow IT is a Good Thing for IT Organizations

Shadow IT is a good thing for IT organizations…and here’s why…

It is important to first understand what Shadow IT is and why it happens. Shadow IT is commonly referred to when non-IT organizations delve into the delivery of technology solutions…without IT’s involvement. It happens for a number of reasons. But the most common is when there is demand for a technology solution and it is believed (right or wrong) that IT is not able to assist or deliver the solution. This could be due to timing, availability, experience, bureaucracy, or a number of other factors. The bottom line is that the non-IT organization believes they can address a need better than the IT organization can.

In general, is Shadow IT a bad thing? Yes, but has the opportunity to evolve into a very good thing. Shadow IT (as it is often implemented today) is a reaction to a problem with a solution that is not ideal. The solution is a non-IT or trying to provide IT services. Unfortunately, this is often not their core competency and furthermore distracts from their core mission.

So, why is this new? In the past, it was hard for non-IT organizations to leverage technology without the assistance of IT. People were also not as familiar with technology. In the cloud-based world, leveraging technology is far easier. In addition, knowledge workers today are more familiar with technology than in past generations. For those that build shadow IT organizations, the believe is that it is the path of least resistance; build yourself or leverage IT. While not an ideal situation, it is often the only choice.

At the Forrester CIO Forum yesterday, 79% of business decision makers say they rely on technology to innovate in the business. 42% say IT is too bureaucratic and 11% of those business decision makers are bypassing IT.

The move to shadow IT is a good thing for IT. Why? It is a wake-up call. It provides a clear message that IT is not meeting the requirements of the business. IT leaders need to rethink how to transform the IT organization to better serve the business and get ahead of the requirements. There is a significant opportunity for IT play a leading role in business today. However, it goes beyond just the nuts and bolts of support and technology. It requires IT to get more involved in understanding how business units operate and proactively seek opportunities to advance their objectives. It requires IT to reach beyond the cultural norms that have been built over the past 10, 20, 30 years.

A new type of IT organization is required. A fresh coat of paint won’t cut it. Change is hard, but the opportunities are significant. This is more of a story about moving from a reactive state to a proactive state for IT. It does require a significant change in the way IT operates for many. That includes both internally within the IT organization and externally in the non-IT organizations. The opportunities can radically transform the value IT brings to driving the business forward.

Shadow IT is a turning point for IT. Embrace it and leverage the best that it can deliver while transforming how technology solutions are delivered. Look for ways to embrace the amplitude in change of technology, process and organization. Embrace change and look for ways to transform IT to better serve the business. Cloud is a significant opportunity to leverage for this change. Shed the ways of old and adopt the new. Opportunity awaits.


  1. I agree, this is a turning point. A few thoughts to add:
    1) Here, we dubbed this “decentralized” IT. Less sexy a term, to be sure, but “shadow” implies something slightly nefarious and trying to remain concealed. Perhaps that’s true in some orgs, but my experience is that those groups managing their own are more than happy – sometimes proud – to show off what they’ve done. I think they would react negatively if we call them “shadow”.
    2) As a professional in this space, I struggle daily with the us-vs-them terminology of “IT” and “Business”. I believe it creates organizational and behavioral walls that
    I would love to see technologists adopt language which abandon the term “Business”.
    3) I propose that “Shadow IT” is simply “technology where it happens”, and that perhaps the future of centralized IT is to be *stewards*, rather than owners, of best practices, compliance, interoperability, security, etc.-

  2. Thanks for the comment! I agree with the comment about us-vs-them. We (IT) need to talk and act like a true, fellow business organization. The differentiation might have served us well in the past. But it won’t have the same positive impact in the future.

    As for Shadow IT, I don’t look at it as a negative term. We’ve used the term job shadowing for a long time. It’s a parallel effort to accomplish an objective.

  3. I agree. Shadow IT is a reflection of the business’ desire to change and that’s good. It’s only not part of the core because the CIO does not enable it as such. A modern CIO must embrace it and support it with cyber, integration, analytics services that the business could consume.

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