Bringing Shadow IT in from the cold

Imagine, that as a business owner, you had the power of invisibility for a morning and could wander around your company and spy on what your teams were up to on their computers. The chances are you’d see most people hard at work; a few others taking a breather and updating their Facebook pages or checking out amusing cat videos on YouTube; while others could be chatting on Skype. You would almost certainly see people using their own iPads and phones as well as software and applications that have not been sanctioned by your company. This is the world of shadow IT.

And before you throw off your invisibility cloak and fire wayward members of staff for not following the rules, using unapproved software and wasting time, take a look at what they are actually doing. Facebook chat and Skype are often used to talk about work issues, as it’s so much faster than sending emails. And there are many other programs and apps out there that can make work processes so much easier, and the chances are your teams know about them.

Remember, if most of your employees are under the age of 35, they’ve grown up in an online world, even if their primary job is not IT. They are tech savvy, IT literate and know their way around the Internet – perhaps better than you do. So it is natural that your employees will want to use the tools they love and know well to help them in their jobs. And this shadow world of unmanaged software and applications is something that you, as a business owner need to know about and even embrace. After all, your company could really benefit from it.

Shadow IT occurs because employees are looking for better ways to work, collaborate and communicate efficiently in the office in the same way that they do with their friends and family. To do this, they will use the tools that are the most convenient. A study has found that some 79% of enterprise businesses have employees that make use of consumer file sharing and collaboration applications while they are at work. So ask yourself why.

Sometimes it is the case that companies are simply not providing the best tools for the job, or they provide too many tools, when the work process can be hugely simplified. And this isn’t just one or two applications that make up this Shadow IT. They can span a range of file sync and attachment-free share services, social media, phone apps, messaging and email applications as well as project and sales management applications. If your employees are unhappy with the tools that your business requires them to use, they may well seek out cloud-based alternatives. They don’t want to be tied to your corporate network or VPN if it is slowing them down. This is why a huge 81% of business employees have admitted to using SaaS applications without the authorisation of their management, according to a survey by Gigaom.

It’s time you started working with these office innovators rather than tying them down to your way of working. If you clamp down and block any form of shadow IT, it could mean you’re also putting the brakes on productivity.

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Of course, the use of shadow IT brings some security risks as it can expose systems to data theft, phishing and spyware scams, and can mean your company is in violation of certain compliance regulations. What’s more, staff using shadow IT are almost certainly violating your company policies. But in many ways the horse has bolted and there’s no shutting the stable door. You need to embrace the world of shadow IT as a way of boosting productivity and innovation while ensuring the use of it is managed and that systems are secure and compliant.

Employees are using shadow IT is now just a fact of life, and it has led to many companies being more productive. But it’s vital that IT organisations govern and manage what systems are being used to mitigate any risks and have procedures in place to ensure security while asking what applications work best and incorporating them into the work process.

One way of going forward is to switch to a cloud based productivity suite such as Google Apps for Work, which incorporates so many of the applications your staff may be getting from third parties – Drive rather than Dropbox for storage, chat, email, video chat and collaboration applications etc. This will allow your staff to take advantage of many new tools and apps made specifically by Google while you retain control without sacrificing security.

If you don’t think a full cloud migration is the solution for you, you still need a way of bringing shadow IT under control. A good way of doing this is by using Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) which ensures you have multifactor authentication and user provisioning. This means that your teams can still use the tools they love, without putting your systems at risk.

Your first job is to discover just what shadow applications your teams are using so you know what needs to be secured and enabled. You also need to talk to your teams to find out just what they are using these tools for, and how they are making them more productive. Most importantly, you need to put together a program of training and education about the dangers of certain unsecured software and then work together to get the right balance between work control, flexibility and security.

At the end of the day, you and your staff want what’s best for your company, and by incorporating shadow IT properly, it can be a win-win for everyone. Except for that guy watching amusing cat videos on YouTube, you might want to get rid of him.

Want to know more about shadow IT or how you can secure the tools and applications your teams are using? Schedule a meeting with Damson Cloud, we can help you enjoy the best of both worlds.