No need to fret about shadow IT apps, survey suggests

Executives see cloud and mobile apps as a way to boost innovation, cut costs. But should IT stand by with a fire extinguisher?

A new survey suggests people are getting more comfortable with shadow IT, and that shadow apps -- cloud and mobile-based -- are delivering tangible benefits to their businesses.

Photo: Joe McKendrick

These are the key takeaways from a recent survey of 400 executives, published by Canvas. The results suggest that "organizations increasingly view shadow IT as an opportunity to drive workforce innovation and cost management." The survey also finds mobile business apps improving business productivity, generating cost savings and ensuring compliance. (Canvas' horse in this race is that it provides apps to replace paper forms, and the survey was among its customer base.)

Letting business users loose with their own technology decisions appears to help foster a greater spirit of innovation in enterprises. The ability to quickly grab needed technology and solutions to act on ideas is a sure boost to innovation. With rising digital competition, marketing teams, for example, are calling in digital development specialists to create offerings such as mobile apps to reach their desired markets. A majority of executives in the Canvas survey, 61 percent, report that their organizations created a mobile business app in 2015 without any involvement from the IT department.

Of course, when shadow IT runs amok, guess who eventually gets called in to clean up the mess? Your venerable IT department, of course. The key is to straddle a happy middle ground -- creating and enabling an environment that allows for flexibility and experimentation -- while keeping things within acceptable bounds in terms of security and interoperability.

Perhaps enterprises are learning to achieve such a balance. In fact, 81 percent report their business teams are very or somewhat comfortable building mobile apps without any help from the IT team. As the survey's authors put it: "The ability of mobile apps to rapidly improve the bottom line and boost top line performance is changing perspectives on shadow IT - broadly defined as applications and solutions built within an organization that the IT department is either unaware of or has not officially sanctioned."

In many cases, we're talking about more than an app here or there. Twenty-five percent say their businesses used at least 10 mobile business apps in 2015, an increase of five percentage points from the prior year. One-fifth of executives even report their organizations were really prolific -- they developed ten or more apps. And they're doing it in no time at all -- 76 percent of those surveyed were able to create a cloud-based app in one day or less.

And there are some benefits already being seen from promoting a shadowy IT environment. Ninety-two percent, for example, said their organization has become more productive after adopting mobile business apps. Two-thirds said mobile business apps saved their organization five or more hours of employee time per week. Sixty-four percent even say using cloud-based mobile apps has improved their compliance process. Of those tracking cost savings, 31 percent said that mobile business apps saved their organization at least $10,000 in 2015.