INTRODUCTION

Almost every one of you who has worked with a computer has used some form of shadow IT at some point in time. From a simple note taker to complex office productivity tools, there are many software tools and services available today for use without involving the IT team. Shadow IT is a term used to refer to the various software tools and services installed, used, and managed without any involvement of the IT department. In today’s world mostly takes the form of SaaS applications running from your browser without any need for installing any software or hardware locally.

Let’s look a little deeper at how shadow IT impacts businesses and how to leverage them to your benefitSo, what is shadow IT? It sure must have some significance to be a topic of reckoning in the IT space. Shadow IT is one of the major drivers for product innovation and productivity, and yet, it is not under the control of the IT department.

1.Shadow IT Defined

2.Why Employees Use Shadow IT

3.Shadow IT Security Risks and Challenges

4.Benefits of Shadow IT

5.Popular Shadow IT Examples

1.Shadow IT Defined

Let’s define the term Shadow IT. A good definition for shadow IT can be, “shadow IT is the use of information technology, devices, software, applications and services without explicit IT department approval.” While Shadow IT plays an important role in increasing productivity and has grown exponentially, it is still outside the purview of the IT department. This growth was fuelled by the easy and quick availability of SaaS applications over internet browsers that offer superior quality and leave hardly any footprint on the local machine. 

Since Shadow IT is outside the IT team’s purview, it can introduce some unintended side effects, sometimes potentially impacting businesses, and that is the reason why shadow IT is a subject to reckon with. 

2.Why Employees Use Shadow IT

So why do you think there is this massive growth in shadow IT applications? Well, simply put, employees derive more efficiency from the use of such applications. Some are even borderline illegal from an IT perspective. For example, some employees believe the IT-approved solution available in-house is inefficient and find a better tool, available free to quench their technical needs, which is more or less subverting the IT security policies. The use of such applications also spread quickly through word of mouth. Cloud-based applications offer several improvements over proprietary IT-supplied software and thus more alluring to the employee base. 

Another factor contributing to the increasing use of shadow IT is the concept of BYOD or Bring Your Device, which essentially means the devices used for work belong to the employees themselves, making it easy to use shadow IT applications.

3.Shadow IT Security Risks and Challenges

As mentioned earlier, there are risks involved in the use of shadow IT. Risks for the business are way more than risks evident for the user. The rule of thumb is, if the IT isn’t aware of any application in use, it is difficult for them to ensure total security. Shadow IT is seen by the IT team with skepticism, with research firm Gartner predicting that by 2020, almost 33% of the cyber attacks on enterprises will be on or through shadow IT resources.

It is a tough call for the IT team, as eliminating shadow IT completely, although possible, will not work in the interest of employee experience and overall productivity. So, while it is pretty clear shadow IT is here to stay, businesses can take steps to minimize risks by ensuring that end-users are aware of these risks. IT can also take preventive measures of monitoring and managing the use of such unsanctioned applications. Knowing how widespread the use of specific shadow IT apps is the key.

While shadow IT is not in itself dangerous for IT systems, shadow IT applications like file sharing and online storage or collaboration solutions might result in the leak of sensitive data. With a growing number of employees working from home or working after normal working hours at home, they tend to send critical business files over to their email ids. This exposes all such data to already compromised networks. 

Shadow IT can also result in multiple departments of a business purchasing the same or similar application for their internal use. This leads to duplication and inefficient use of IT funds.

 Steps taken by IT to mitigate risks related to shadow IT like, blocking access using firewalls, are found to be counterintuitive. Employees tend always to find an open and riskier alternative to applications that have been blocked by IT, thus further deteriorating the risk scene.

The best solution to risks posed by shadow IT seems to be looking at shadow IT in a different light. If there is a significant employee base using shadow IT, it is a clear indication of inadequacies in the application(s) made available by IT. It is a clear opportunity for IT to identify such shadow IT applications and work towards offering such solutions through the IT platform after having completely evaluated the security risks involved.

4.Benefits of Shadow IT

Let’s list down some of the benefits of shadow IT, especially from a business perspective. 

Shadow IT brings the time to acquire an application down to almost zero compared to the time taken to get approval from the IT dept to start using an IT-hosted application. One of the bottlenecks to productivity is the approval process. Shadow IT sidesteps this bottleneck completely.

Shadow IT decreases the burden of administering, managing, and maintaining similar applications on its platform. Shadow IT also frees up resources and time that goes into a similar in-house tool.

Some of the most popular shadow IT tools are some of the most widely used as well. Applications like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs for productivity, collaboration tools like Slack and Skype, file-sharing applications like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive are many familiar examples of shadow IT applications. In the hardware category, any device that lets you connect to the business infrastructure can be considered a part of shadow IT.

CONCLUSION

Shadow IT is like a beast that is capable of wreaking havoc, but at the same time, when tamed well, it will work wonders for you and your workforce.

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