Set your users free and learn to love 'shadow IT' - TechCentral

Set your users free and learn to love ‘shadow IT’

In 1981, IBM introduced the first personal computer, code-named “Acorn”. It used Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system, had an Intel chip, two floppy drives and an optional colour monitor. It started the shift to placing computers within reach of many users.

Rolling forward 15 years, Sergey Brin and Larry Page developed the Google search engine at Stanford University. They laid the foundation for democratising access to information and in so doing, shaped the modern Internet.

In 2010, Apple unveiled the iPad, changing how we viewed media and jumpstarting the tablet device computer segment. It also set the base for devices to serve both work and personal needs in a unique form, making mobility the norm.

Shifts such as these have brought technology within mainstream access for us as consumers of technology.

Traditionally, the IT department owned the development of technology solutions. Your requirement would compete for priority and resources, such as budget. In the absence of a timeous reply, business users would create solutions using Excel macros or Visual Basic scripts. These would create a workaround to the shortcomings of the central information systems. This is known today as “shadow IT”. The term refers to technology efforts managed without the knowledge of the IT department.

Use cases

The earliest use cases typically came out of the reporting and analytics fields. Technology solutions helped commoditise the analysis of complex data sets in ways that could be rapidly consumed by users.

In other areas, IT departments tried to meet business needs but failed to deliver timely, relevant solutions. This resulted in the business recruiting technology-literate people to close the gaps, leading to a growth in technology capabilities outside of the IT organisation.

Many companies have realised those old ways of delivering technology no longer work. They need to be nimbler and deliver iteratively in cross-functional teams. Larger pieces of work delivered via smaller increments is a proven way in which to create value. No matter how efficient and accurate the delivery processes have become, technology teams remain unable to keep up with new demand for technology solutions needed by the business.

The author, Ian Doyle, argues that IT departments can’t keep up with business demands

The accelerating changes in the cloud-enabled digital landscape continue to create a gap between the business requirements and IT’s capacity to respond. Areas outside of the technology division are well placed to take on these growing requirements.

Enter the era of “as-a-service” solutions from the cloud. The rules for delivering technology have changed forever. Through the introduction of cloud-enabled technology platforms (from the likes of, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services), users can address complex problems with limited technical expertise.

“No-code” and “low-code” software allows users to build applications with no formal knowledge of coding or software development.

‘Low code’

“Low code” is a way for application makers to get more done. With low-code platforms, employees can spend more time creating and less time on repetitive work. In today’s fast-paced business environment, workforce productivity is a new benchmark for corporate competitiveness.

“Low code” isn’t about reducing the value of developers. It does, however, allow business stakeholders to solve problems themselves. Empowering employees to build solutions that feature teams are unable to, brings several benefits to the fore:

  • More people can deliver solutions;
  • There is faster time to market of products; and
  • There is visibility into “shadow IT”.

IT functions that see themselves as the sole provider of technology solution delivery will continue to find themselves with increasing backlogs of requests.

Automation, robotics, applications, data analysis … all of this is now possible via simple interfaces. All these are dependent on the organisations most valuable asset — its information.

It is essential to understand what your company’s information assets are. You also need to manage and protect them. Avoid creating solutions where equivalent ones already exist.

With great technologies come risks and responsibility. Getting them wrong may necessitate support from IT, misalignment to regulations or policies, and the creation of key-person dependencies.

IT can govern employee-led projects using technology that provides visibility on environments, usage patterns and security.

Bespoke vendor applications can address only so many business needs. Customisation of software is traditionally the realm of IT teams. Everything else that sits outside of these domains is a massive opportunity to optimise and improve how employees collaborate and work.

Limited involvement

The floodgates have opened, and companies now need to choose their ongoing delivery models and train users in understanding IT principles.

Given the high levels of digital skills and ambition in your workforce, how can you equip employees to create their solutions, with limited involvement from IT?

Have you asked your IT team how they are setting you up to solve business challenges? We are at the next 15-year check-in.

  • Ian Doyle is head of the digital workplace at Standard Bank Group

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