Afraid of Our Own Shadow: Why Complexity Costs Drive Shadow IT

If you take a look back at the last few decades of technological advancements, it’s easy to focus on the benefits we’ve reaped. The software as a service (SaaS) revolution? The doorway to many conveniences we now take for granted. Virtualization? It’s changed everything from cost savings to disaster recovery. And of course the analytics we now enjoy have delivered insights that let us abandon low-performing strategies and focus on the practices that drive us forward.

So yes, at a glance we can all agree that these advances are something to be celebrated. Yet at the same time we pay a price for these developments that go beyond budgets and dollars. I’m talking about the complexity of these tools – a complexity that ultimately creates the world of Shadow IT.

After all, these capabilities are valuable for a reason. Not just anyone can wield these tools. They’re specialized. Complicated. They demand skill. Finding the right IT professionals who know how to run and manage them and turn theoretical returns into excellent results is no easy task. And the fact that they’re often used together in intricate technology stacks and connections complicate the situation even further.

Imagine, for instance, that your account reps need an app that lets them check results and account status when visiting a client. Some of that information will be housed in a cloud-based sales tool which probably connects to a separate tool that manages inventory. From there you’ll need to involve a connection to a shipping tool. Any data that’s pulled will need to be delivered in a clear and comprehensive way that’s mobile-friendly – and of course, it will need to be secure too, which could involve an experienced third party provider with advanced security and compliance expertise. Finally, you’ll probably want to draw on a separate analytics tool to help translate the numbers into results the client can understand.

Complicated enough for you? It gets worse. Imagine managing all of this – and then your company merges with another and it becomes imperative to make two incompatible systems work together. That’s when it really gets tough.

True, various new technologies claim to assist with this kind of challenge. They tend to be unfriendly to legacy systems, though, which means teams are forced to choose between abandoning their existing stack and starting over, or dealing with the existing complexity. Neither is an easy option, so it’s not surprising that many of them seek the help of outside consultants and vendors.

Now think about the time factor of this complexity. You’ve probably gone through it yourself; IT projects tend to proceed at a snail’s pace, as teams map out and test an almost unlimited range of possible issues. In the meantime, the business manager who asked for the solution grows impatient, so much so that he or she will often create or outsource solutions on their own. And that’s how a new Shadow IT is created, where departments end up using solutions deficient in functionality or cybersecurity.

Maybe you think that your business managers don’t have the skill to create their own fixes. Think again. This dynamic is widespread enough that both inventive startups and established companies like Dell, Citrix and HP have catered to this market, creating apps and services that can be implemented by end users independently of their IT team. Today’s business leader is increasingly comfortable with cloud computing basics and not afraid to use the new tools available.

If the very idea of such rogue practices alarms you, you’re not alone. IT teams don’t just solve functionality problems – they manage security, compliance regulations, company policies and more. They maintain an overview that ties innumerable technology components together into a protected and high-performing ecosystem. Shadow IT initiatives tend to move forward heedless of these concerns, which creates even more vulnerabilities.

There’s no simple solution here.  Too many organizations are mired in legacy systems and complicated technology stacks. The complexity cost of those systems isn’t going away. Neither is the eagerness of business managers to solve their problems and accelerate projects however they can.

So what can we do? Here’s a start: CIOs can take a look inside and find a way to re-architect their systems so that their teams can work more productively with business leaders and eliminate Shadow IT. It won’t be easy, true. But the future ahead of us if we leave the complexity challenge unaddressed will be even tougher.