Shadow IT sounds mysterious, and may conjure images of IT workers engaging in dark arts after hours, and though the truth is far from this imagined reality it can still have a detrimental effect on your business. It isn’t the IT department you need to be concerned about either, as they are the ones that assume responsibility for combating this practice within a company.
So what exactly is shadow IT and what risks does it present?
In this guide, we’ll dive into the ins and outs of shadow IT so that you can easily identify and address it within your business.
What is shadow IT?
Shadow IT refers to the practice of using software that hasn’t been officially approved for use by the company. It also implies that employees are using the company’s information systems to complete tasks outside of the awareness of those in the IT department.
This is where the major issue with it lies: when the IT department isn’t in the loop, the IT workers are powerless to address issues that arise which could have a ripple effect throughout the business. If an employee downloads and uses software that contains a virus, for example, it could soon spread throughout the organization causing setbacks to productivity.
Shadow IT doesn’t always present a problem, though. For example, it may be that employees feel that they can increase productivity using Google Docs over Microsoft Word so they use the former even though it’s unsanctioned. This can even lead to insights on what tools various teams and individuals believe are instrumental to their ability to produce results. As a result, it could inform and influence your IT spending budget.
However, the main concern is that you’re unaware of Shadow IT activities, and this is an awkward position to be in since transparency about how your employees work is crucial for making the best business decisions.
The dark side of shadow IT
Even if you can stand to gain insights from shadow IT practices, the dark side of it can’t be ignored. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant issue with shadow IT and how it can negatively affect your business:
Increased risk of security breaches
When you consider that shadow IT usage is at least 10x the size of known cloud usage, you have to raise your eyebrows and wonder whether it’s going on in your company. It’s important to acknowledge the potential for shadow IT in your organization because it can lower your defenses against cyberattacks and open the door to breaches.
As mentioned earlier, shadow IT presents a problem not because employees are going behind the company’s back to use different tools, which is a different problem altogether, but because they are doing so without informing the IT department.
It shows initiative to find software that will help you put out your best work every day, but at the same time, nativity to expose your work computer and the company’s information systems to potential security threats. For example, if there were to be a data leak involving a software client that one of your employees was using, you may find yourself in the awkward position of leaking sensitive information into the public domain.
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How to address shadow IT
So how do you get on top of shadow IT and ensure that your employees inform the IT department before signing up for new software tools?
First things first, you need to take the time to get everyone up to speed with the concept of shadow IT and the risks it presents. For many, using a tool like Google Docs on the work computer to produce work quicker might seem like something like a harmless act that can only benefit the company.
In the eyes of the employee, it’s much more efficient to cut out the middleman – the IT department – in order to transition to the tool that they believe is best for the job.
As such, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that many employees are simply blind to the risks of shadow IT. So naming and shaming the practice in a company-wide briefing, or team meeting, could open employees’ eyes to the issue. Educating the workforce has to be an ongoing effort too, so that both veterans and new recruits alike will be up to speed with company policy.
You could even create a system whereby employees can regularly put forward ideas for SaaS tools they feel would help boost productivity in their team. That way, they would feel like their input matters, and you could reach an agreement without the need for shadow IT to take place.
Another approach to tackle shadow IT is to install remote employee monitoring software on work computers. That way, you’ll know in real time what software individuals and teams are using throughout the day. You’ll also get the added benefit of knowing how employees are spending their time during work hours, which is useful for creating accurate performance reports.
Shadow IT is surprisingly common in the workplace, so it’s vital that you get on top of it and that you and your employees understand the risks. So long as the IT department is made aware of new software being used, the practice doesn’t have to become a problem. Yet when it’s kept in the dark, that’s when you face an increased security threat.