What is now called shadow IT has existed since before the IT department and CIO roles were invented. Long before we organized IT, leaders throughout organizations have been finding ways to do their work more efficiently, using any tools they could get their hands on. Only when information technology started to be organized and the freedom of individuals or groups in an organization became limited to use technology to do their job – in what they in their expertise deem to be the most efficient way – have we started calling it “Shadow IT”, with all the negative connotation that comes with those words.
Shadow technology (solutions not approved or provided by the organization) exist at all levels and will likely always exist; people will always find new ways to make their lives easier, and no amount of rules is going to change human nature. The development of new, often disruptive, technologies in information technology has been so pervasive over the last few years that it is impossible for any IT department to lead the organization in the introduction of those technologies; it is just impossible to keep up. Combine this with a growing population of digital native professionals that are always looking for ways to do their work better, faster, cheaper and above all else with less effort, and you know that every new (likely disruptive) piece of technology is going to find a way into your organization.
The speed and quality of software development, especially of custom software for task-specific features, has been an area of concern for almost every company for many years. The IT team just does not have the bandwidth and depth of knowledge to deliver the features the business needs when the business needs it. The result is that many times, business-critical software is being “developed” using tools that are just not meant for that task – often using Microsoft Excel or similar tools – or cloud services are purchased that meet very specific needs. Both options create a huge liability for any organization, especially the cloud services bought and used without any regard for corporate policies about privacy, data secrecy, or business continuity requirements.
Some of the tools being purchased in increasing numbers, often on the initiative of a single enterprising and tech-savvy employee, are low-code and (possibly more likely) no-code platforms. These platforms offer the ability to create custom software without needing much, if any, technical skills, and many of them do a decent job of delivering on that promise.
With the extensive backlog of custom software needs from an organization and the ever-increasing pressure on budget, skills, and maintenance of existing systems on the central IT organization, it is only a matter of time until every company will have at least one low or no-code platform used in their organization for business-critical functions. This will possibly be beyond the reach of the IT, legal, privacy, and business continuity teams. There is simply no way to stop or regulate innovation and the drive of people to find ways to make their work-life better.
We advise any organization to work with their business units and departments and determine what the need is for custom software that can be created and managed by those units or departments. They can jointly select a low or no-code platform that meets the needs of the business. The central IT department can then negotiate a contract with one (or possibly several) providers of this technology, taking into consideration requirements from the legal, privacy, and other business perspectives.
Once that structure is in place, the most important aspect of making this solution work will develop naturally. Leave the teams alone, let them use the technology, do not try to limit the use of the platform, and do not tell people who can and cannot use it. Let the professionals in the organization decide for themselves how they can use this tool best to do their job in the most efficient way possible.
Our simple advice to IT organizations: embrace the new capabilities that low and no-code platforms offer your organization and help guide it, but do not try to control shadow IT. If you do, it will go back into the shadows.