Wake up to the benefits of shadow IT

Gone are the days when IT helpdesks filled their days answering simple queries about sending e-mails to multiple addresses or how best to search for something on the internet.

Gone are the days when IT helpdesks filled their days answering simple queries about sending e-mails to multiple addresses or how best to search for something on the internet.

With 45% of internet users in Europe now online every day of the week and an estimated 55 million people taking the next step onto web 2.0, IT literacy has grown enormously among employees, and is almost ubiquitous for those under the age of 30.

This rapid shift in user's IT expertise has created fresh challenges for today's CIO. With increased user demand, impatience with available software capabilities and an office full of "IT DIYers", this new IT literate workforce demands not just more, but something different from their CIOs, and is becoming ever less satisfied with basic enterprise systems.

CIOs, more than ever before, need to turn their eyes from the purchase ledgers of the CFO to the social networking sites of their colleagues, in order to understand how best to improve the productivity of their workforce.

A failure to meet user demands is resulting in the growth of unauthorised, parallel IT, known as "shadow IT", where users adapt unauthorized tools for corporate and personal tasks.

Common examples include the use of social networking sites to replace secure shared discussion areas and the use of instant messaging rather than e-mail.

This ultimately results in the reduction of a CIO's control over the use of information and security within the business. And given the increasing pressure for security and compliance in today's business environment, there is a need for this to be resisted.

The huge growth of social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo among young working professionals, and the ubiquity of Google Maps clutched in the hands of iPod-wearing suits on their way to meetings, demonstrates the scale of shadow IT in the workplace today.

Most graduates entering your workforce probably could not imagine life without any of these unauthorised tools, and this is now probably true for the majority of the workforce.

The real danger from the use of shadow IT is the security risk it opens up. As a recent Financial Times report put it, "Corporate confidentiality and communications policies have been ripped to shreds by the social networking phenomenon."

The use of unlicensed software and applications creates far more opportunities for corporate information to fall into the wrong hands than any CIO can control. It could even lead to networks being compromised and threaten an organisation's entire security infrastructure shadow IT is now something that has a real effect on business continuity planning.

CIOs are currently reacting in one of two ways: either cracking down on web use permissions and imposing blanket bans on the use of such resources in the workplace, or ignoring the issue and hoping the problem will go away.

Neither approach looks set to succeed against the overwhelming user demand for such services. Much like the datacentre manager having to come to terms with the PC and networked IT replacing standalone computing, today's CIOs need to wake up to the opportunities as well as the benefits that this new type of technology and its users can bring.

Indeed, an Economist Intelligence Unit research programme, sponsored by Capgemini, showed that business people are more confident that new technologies such as Web 2.0 are those which deliver the greatest results for their firms.

A good place to start would be to look to the experience of the HR department simple tools such as the HR handbook provide some surprisingly clear definitions on personal behaviour and corporate matters, providing an interesting starting point to construct the beginnings of a workable policy.

With Europeans spending an average of 70% of their online time for personal reasons compared to 30% for work, it is important to make these policies clear from the start.

However, embracing shadow IT does not just mean imposing limits upon its use within the workplace. Instead, CIOs should look to adapt to shadow IT by working to successfully manage the introduction of responsibilities and ownership of role-based activities around content, versus enterprise-based procedures around data.

As IT literacy continues to grow and the iPod generation begins to reach the boardroom, CIOs must work to shift the role of their IT departments from helpdesk to user enablement, and refocus on a new role of organising and orchestrating enterprise processes and procedures.

Only those able to adapt to the growing capabilities of their workforce will avoid the loss of control of their business critical information, and ultimately profits.


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