Four considerations on shadow IT

Should you embrace or oppose shadow IT in your clients to benefit yourself? Here’s four things to think about before taking the leap.

The channel can leverage the need for staff to seek shadow IT as a way of driving new business.

Shadow IT are solutions or systems created and applied inside companies without the authorisation of the IT department. And it’s something channel organisations need to seriously consider. It offers both opportunities and risks. Whether it’s embraced or opposed by client organisations, it will have an impact on the operations and plans of channel businesses. How should you tackle this shadowy beast? Here are the key things to think about when assessing the shadow IT challenge.

There are real opportunities

When a company’s staff reaches out to cloud services to increase their productivity and efficiency, it lays the foundation for channel partners to identify why employees within the business need such capabilities and offer more services. In turn, it allows partners to help the company innovate past the older in-house technology staff no longer wish to work with and collaborate with them to deliver more value to their IT investments, both on-premise and in the cloud. Ultimately, shadow IT acts as the catalyst to allow the channel to have more meaningful conversations and to deliver more meaningful managed services to its customers, albeit often away from the IT department’s gaze.

There are also opportunities to improve sales, based on existing shadow IT implementations at a customer’s organisation. Bennie Strydom, chief sales officer at Integr8 IT, points out that a tool like Dropbox may be commonly used by employees, even if the CIO/IT manager is against storing documents in the cloud. However, tools like these are only used by staff because they improve productivity, collaboration and efficiencies, so the answer is to sell a corporate version of the solution to the company. Firstly, this negates the need for users to utilise the free – and therefore less secure – version, while it also bridges the gap between what the users want and the security and management fears of the CIO.

To sell or not to sell?

Shadow IT is something of a conundrum, in that it poses a danger to both those organisations that decide to sell it to customers and those that do not.

Firstly, it poses a risk to the traditional business models utilised by the channel. If channel players ignore the shift vendors are taking in delivering cloud applications to almost anyone, anywhere, on any device, they may well find themselves left behind. It’s therefore important to look at the business opportunities available in the shifting cloud-first model and align revenue opportunities to support these changes.

At the same time cautions George Stylianou, CIO at three6five, one should not simply view the opportunity to sell shadow IT services as a convenient way to get a ‘foot in the door’ with a new customer. If you’re not engaging at senior management level, if you don’t have an open and transparent business relationship with your customer, and if your solutions don’t offer real value and benefit to the customer, you may quickly find that your customer becomes an ex-customer.
Work with customers, not against them
Some business units within large organisations are empowered to make their own decisions around the solutions they choose to use. While these are usually expected to align with their overall IT architecture or strategy, sometimes these are not clearly defined or properly understood by the business units.

This results in these departments making IT-related decisions purely based on what’s good for their own unit. This may improve the overall efficiency and productivity of the department, but can often have IT governance implications. Therefore, says Stylianou, channel players should try to ensure, as far as possible, that any solution sold to a specific business unit is also aligned with the overall IT principles and vision of the client organisation. In instances where there are conflicts, these need to be addressed prior to any sale or implementation.

It should also be remembered, says Kaseya CTO Dana Epp, that many businesses have corporate or regulatory governance obligations, such that the discovery of unapproved software could trigger a complete audit of the infrastructure, along with the associated financial costs to ensure compliance. In some industries, the sanctions can include huge fines and even criminal charges, which means the stakeholders may try to transfer responsibility and liability back to the channel partner. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to work closely with the stakeholders responsible for IT within an organisation, rather than attempting to bypass them.

Leverage it for new business
When it’s done right, the channel can leverage the need for staff to seek shadow IT as a way of driving new business. Once the employees are happy with a given shadow IT solution, they become internal champions, helping the channel player to gain the trust of the people responsible for IT within the organisation. In this way, the solutions provider can potentially gain access to discussions around the larger overall IT strategy of the business.

Stylianou believes that’s in the interests of all parties for the channel to help its customers find ways of safely incorporating shadow IT solutions and methods. There are numerous cases where – once certain teams or business units begin realising the benefit of such solutions – these are rapidly incorporated into the mainstream IT portfolio, improving the company’s productivity and creating additional sales opportunities for the channel.

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