24 March 2015

The shadow monsters are coming

By Andrew Clifford

If you were selling IT solutions, would you talk to the IT department?

Most IT spend falls into four areas: enterprise applications; desktop solutions; services such as file servers and email; and devices and equipment. These are firmly in the domain of the IT department, and, if you are a vendor, you need to talk to them.

There are lots of odds and ends of IT - departmental systems, informal Excel-based systems, bits of reporting, collaboration tools, interim solutions, and so on. When I've done inventories of IT systems in organisations, the vast majority fall outside the big enterprise solutions that the IT department naturally owns.

A large number of these systems are purchased outside of the IT department, what is known as "shadow IT". By some estimates, 30% of IT spending is now outside of the control of the IT department, and this figure is growing.

There are problems with shadow IT, and it is often perceived as a threat by the IT department. Some of this is just fighting for power, but there are genuine reasons to be concerned about support, compliance and security of systems acquired and run without professional oversight.

But there is also a positive side. Shadow IT can take pressure off the IT department, increase productivity, and be an important source of innovation. Whether we welcome it or not, it's now so easy for individuals and end user departments to acquire their own solutions that shadow IT is inevitable.

Going back to my opening question, if you're were a vendor, would you talk to the IT department? Looking at my own company, Metrici, our product is good for niche solutions that fall outside of the main IT areas. Ours is a cloud offering, and we don't need to talk to the IT department to get it installed. We could try selling it as a strategic platform to the IT department, but we're likely to be more successful offering point solutions directly to end-user departments. Talking to the IT department only adds complication, time and cost, which undermines our "faster and cheaper" proposition.

And we're the good guys. Our background is in helping companies manage their IT well, and although we might feel that talking to the IT department is the right things to do, commercial pressures force us to go direct to end-user departments. If we've come to this conclusion, you can be sure that other vendors with less of a corporate IT background will have concluded the same.

If you work in the IT department, you need to recognise that your business colleagues will increasingly be looking for solutions from elsewhere. It used to be downloaded PC software, then collaboration tools like Skype and Dropbox and bring your own device (BYOD). But increasingly your business colleagues will be subscribing to cloud-based business applications.

To cope in this changing world, you need to change your view of the IT department. Instead of being the sole provider, you need to work with your business colleagues, and the shadow vendors themselves, to ensure that solutions deliver value, have the right controls, and are properly supported. If you can position yourself as a trusted adviser, you too can thrive in the shadows.