March 9, 2015 2 Comments
Shadow IT: Is it a failure of leadership?
Gartner defines shadow IT as the presence of “IT devices, software and services outside the ownership or control of IT organizations.” From Gartner’s definition, one can deduce that the lack of control is the key parameter being used to assess the shadowiness, however, the ownership debate no longer suffices due to the various bring your own initiatives within organisations.
Wikipedia describes it as “IT systems and IT solutions built and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval” corroborates the view espoused by Gartner. Wikipedia’s definition also alludes to the loss of control or lack of governance.
Thinking through those definitions of shadow IT, any one will deduce that until the questions below are answered, the term shadow IT might be doing injustice to the drive for speed, agility, and innovation by those that do not belong to the formal structure referred to as the IT or IS function.
Those relevant questions are:
- Who owns IT?
- Who should own IT?
- Who controls IT?
- Who should control IT?
- Who governs IT?
- Who should govern IT?
- Who is responsible for IT?
- Who should be responsible for IT?
- Who is accountable for IT?
- Who should be accountable for IT?
The answers to the questions posed above are not within the scope of this article, however, some of them will need to be answered in order to ascertain if indeed shadow IT has arisen due to a lack of leadership in IT. Furthermore, the questions that want to address the interplay of IT within the organisation in the future are not relevant in the understanding of the rise of shadow IT.
Leadership by its very nature creates followership i.e. leadership cannot exist without followership. The romantic notion of leadership by followers creates a certain normative expectation that is expected from leaders.
Whilst there might be cultural differences in follower expectation which may also be impacted by the organisational culture (attitudes and habits that have formed over years) and identity, researchers identified integrity, knowledge, creativity, social awareness, vision, commitment, expertise etc. as essential characteristics and attributes expected from leaders. The expectation generates the following demands, most of which IT organisations fail at.
A relationship between those traits and the emergence of shadow IT is further explored in the table below:
The common theme that resonates whoever you speak to within the business in most organisations is the lack of trust. The business do not feel IT is capable of meeting their requirements; the business also has a high level of distrust for IT and see IT as an obstacle, not enablers. Those views are indeed damning.
Is it time to fix it?
Unsurprisingly, a lot of vendors are now touting technical products and solutions that may help you in solving the perceived problem. The smarter ones are talking about monitoring and creating visibility. However, the pertinent questions: What is there to fix? And, why should we fix it? have not been answered.
To make matters worse, IT organisations are going round attempting to fix what has been a fundamental shift in behaviour, attitudes and habits through the use of technical solutions in order to reign in shadow IT and introduce control and governance. Such ‘quick and dirty’ fixes may create a semblance of governance and control in the short term, however, the long term prognosis is that it will lead to further breakdown in trust.
Indeed, the view from IT is that of shadowiness, however, the view from those operating such IT is ‘visible IT’. The use of language and terminologies have significance across cultures; that affects how our messages are interpreted, its effectiveness and the response we get. The intention of those who have implemented ‘visible’ IT was for the common good. Bandying it as shadowiness with a need to curtail or stop it is bound to antagonise and lead to ‘revolt’.
What can we do about it? Should we embrace it and accept that it is a dispersal of leadership and cultivate it?
IT organisations should focus on restoring integrity and trust, before jumping on the bandwagon of ‘let us fix our shadow IT through technical solutions’. Attempting to change the behaviour of the business overnight through some half-baked measures will only create an environment of apathy by the business towards IT and distrust.
Authoritarian and dictatorial approaches to leadership will not be effective in this scenario where there has been a laissez faire attitude to leadership over a period of time. There has been an abdication of leadership by IT; the leadership vacuum has been filled and the strategic agenda has been set by someone else. It is time for IT to embrace this new world and accept that leadership has been dispersed.
It is time for IT to listen, learn and lead collaboratively. IT may be able to reset the strategic agenda if the integrity account moves back in to credit.