The pace of business is rapidly increasing.  Technology-based enhancements to back-office operations seem to be required almost continually.  At the same time, there is an incessant demand for technology to improve the customer experience, drive innovation in products and services, and help us transform our businesses.  The backlog for IT services is growing, and there is a growing frustration with what many see as the IT roadblock in accomplishing the things they need done.Road to Success

With a significant percentage typically dedicated to keeping the lights on, there is relatively little left within most IT budgets to spend in moving the company forward.  Business executives are left scrambling to drive the changes they need to respond to new economic realities and competitive pressures.  Increasingly they are looking to cloud and SaaS offerings to help meet their business needs.  They can implement these solutions quickly with a “per use” cost basis – quite a marked contrast to the typical IT project.   And, perhaps even more appealing, they can do this without touching the IT budget.  As SaaS offerings continue to increase and address more business functions, we can expect their use to proliferate.  The pace of acceptance will be quickened with as employees continue to become more tech-savvy and SaaS vendors targeting sales to business units (instead of IT).

Shadow IT employed without IT knowledge brings several risks

Too often, this “shadow IT’ ability is implemented without the knowledge of the CIO.  This may be the result of a poor relationship between the CIO and others in the C-suite.   Or it could occur because the business unit simply feels that since IT doesn’t understand – and seems uninterested in – their business, they just don’t add much to the equation.  It could simply be that they didn’t feel it was important enough to matter.  Hiding the effort could ultimately create problems in information security, regulatory compliance, and integration with legacy systems.  If such issues come to light, the CIO may feel somewhat vindicated while the company suffers and those in the business unit grow even more frustrated with IT.

There are very valid reasons for the rise of shadow IT.  Leaders throughout the rest of the business are frustrated with their inability to get what they need from IT at the speed of business.  CIOs can view this as a threat or as an opportunity.

It is threatening to those who limit themselves to a technology focus while seeking to control all technology expenditures within the company.    It is also threatening to those who may view their importance as being measured by the size of their staff or budget.  Those who view shadow IT as a threat will either attempt to control it (using political capital or fear/uncertainty/doubt) or ignore it.  Both approaches cause issues.

Shadow IT brings an amazing opportunity

On the other hand, shadow IT can be seen as an amazing opportunity.  It is an opportunity to help the company move forward.  It is an opportunity to get IT more involved in the business.  It is an opportunity to rethink current IT processes and reimagine ways to help your company become faster and more flexible.  It is an opportunity to spur more innovation.  It is an opportunity to become a trusted advisor rather than an order taker.  It is an opportunity for IT to shed its reputation as a roadblock and to gain a reputation as a business driver.

Let’s look at some practical steps to help in taking advantage of this opportunity:

  • Listen.  Many CIOs spend far too much time in their offices or in meetings with IT staff.  It doesn’t cut it to tell other executives that you have an open door policy and then wait for them to come tell you what they need.  Get proactive, get involved, and force the issue yourself.  Spend time with other members of the C-suite.  Gain an understanding of their goals and their challenges.  Ask where they see the industry headed, what the competition is doing, and where they want to take their area.  Have the courage to talk with them about what they truly need from IT that you are not supplying.  Truly feel their pain.  Then commit to doing something about it.
  • Embed.  Identify an IT professional to serve as consultant for each business unit.  Do not make this simply an additional duty for someone to fit in as they can.  Establish an expected number of hours/week for them to perform this duty.  (A minimum of 8 hours/week is recommended initially, but ultimately this should become a full-time position.)  Track it in some way to ensure that it happens.   Train these individuals on how to serve as internal consultants.  Note that this goes far beyond what we have traditionally labelled as relationship managers or account managers.  These internal consultants are tasked with helping their assigned business area move forward.  They should attend business unit staff meetings and gain an intimate understanding of their processes, challenges, and vision.  They should proactively identify solutions that can help the business increase revenue, decrease costs, or enhance differentiation through technology services as well as manual processes.  In short, this is the beginning of IT becoming a professional services organization that is a trusted advisor to the business.  We will address this more fully in future articles.
  • Establish broad policies.  Develop broad architecture and security policies that make it easy for business units to purchase SaaS solutions while still properly protecting the company.  Ensure that these policies and their value are easily understood by nontechnical personnel.  Take care not to make these policies are limiting only where absolutely necessary.  You want the business units to have the freedom to implement creative solutions they need to achieve success.

It should be obvious that “shadow IT” is here to stay.  A Stratecast survey found that 80% of respondents admitted to using non-approved SaaS solutions in their jobs…and the use of these non-approved solutions was higher amongst IT professionals than in other areas.  CIOs should view it as a wake-up call and an opportunity to transform the IT department from roadblock to a principal driver of your company’s success.

What other suggestions do you have to help overcome the perception of IT as a roadblock?

10 Responses to “Moving IT from Roadblock to Business Driver”

  • Mike Wise says:

    Remarkable commentary, Terry. Deep insights that need to be said.

    I’d like to position crowdsourcing as a potential solution, albeit a new innovation that needs much vetting from an IT coding standpoint. Sites like TopCoder certainly are helping IT departments move faster. However, even after 5-6 years of available crowdsourcing, the vast majority of IT departments that I have personally interacted with not only have zero crowdsourcing initiatives, but also have little fluency with the concepts. And yet crowdsourcing has the potential to play a significant role in the velocity of the organization, knowing that technology is one of the primary drivers of advancement.

    Curious on your comments and those of other readers. Again, great writing and needs to be said. Love the Embed concept. It will take a special kind of techie, but done well, a significant operational improvement.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mike.

      Within the Embed comments mentioned above, I spoke briefly of IT evolving into a professional services organization that is a trusted advisor driving the business forward …seeking in every way to add clear value. Not only would they identify solutions/opportunities, but they would also look to source them. Crowdsourcing is certainly one of the arrows that has to be in their quiver.

  • KenHittel says:

    Very happy to see an appreciation of SaaS solutions as, what it fact it should be, “a wake-up call and opportunity.” For years I was bedeviled by IT’s refusal to recognize the value to the organization — and potentially to IT itself — offered by many SaaS solutions, usually irrationally rejected out of hand as “not invented here.” Well, the days of inventing — now re-inventing — everything here are long gone. No business is going to, or could even contemplate, paying IT — and waiting years — to re-invent, say, Salesforce, to cite one now-outlandish example.
    But I’m still a little bothered by the notion of having IT “approve” business-desired SaaS solutions, which often leads to rejection of what the business clearly understands better than IT. One example that I know resonates in many companies: Yeah, Jive or Lithium are great social collaboration platforms, but we (IT) would rather force-feed you an addition to our Microsoft ELA with Sharepoint’s “bolted-on” collaboration features.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Ken. My impression of the study talking about non-approved SaaS solutions referred to things that are flying under the radar. As I mentioned, thiis has the potential to create issues in the areas of information security, regulatory compliance, and integration with legacy systems. This is why we need broad architecture & security policies that make it easy on the business units to purchase SaaS solutions while still protecting the company. Any solution that meets these policies should be acceptable. Using your example, as long as SharePoint & Jive both adhere to these broad policies, the business could pick what best met their need.

      Does that make sense?

      • KenHittel says:

        Terry, you have a valid point in re: “things that are flying under the radar.” I saw my share of this problematic shadow IT and sympathize w/ IT professionals over the waste of resources and introduction of, at best, duplicative “solutions,” and, at worst, dangerous “solutions.” (There is also the isolating consequences of shadow IT, where employees in some Departments are locked into non-standard, and badly supported, tech solutions, and become psychologically isolated from what is supposed to be an “enterprise.”
        That said, the impetus for shadow IT often lies in the unwillingness of corporate IT to even consider what may be somewhat unique needs and often quite creative solutions to problems that, looked at more generously, might be extended and properly supported more extensively.

        • Ken, I agree. The CIO should view shadow IT as a wakeup call and an opportunity…not as a control issue. Yes, the company must absolutely be protected, but as you said, too many CIOs take the “not invented here” mentality & attempt to control. It takes a mindset change.

    • Mike Wise says:

      I completely agree, Ken. I recently had a client want to use HubSpot for their website and marketing platform. Because corporate IT had a policy around SaaS as you described, the initiative was rejected out of hand. Quite serious adverse implications on a few levels.

      • Mike,

        Out of curiosity, what was the policy that prevented the use of HubSpot?

        • Mike Wise says:

          … the anti-SaaS policy rendered by Corp IT.

          • Sometimes I wonder…

            I think we all would agree that a company needs broad policies. After all, we are supposed to be united under a common banner – seeking to attain a common purpose.

            But there should be a reason behind the policies that is commonly understood – & hopefully not just ‘because I said so.’ For example, we have hiring policies designed to keep the company in compliance with federal law. But if HR established a policy that said we could only hire people that were born on a Thursday, that is unnecessarily binding.

            The broad policies established by IT should be easily understood & not unnecessarily binding.


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