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Turning shadow IT into a business advantage

CIOs in large firms are being circumnavigated by line-of-business decision makers who are buying their own apps, often without input from the IT department. In a smaller business, that siloed way of working won't fly. In fact, the close interactions of a smaller team make Agile and DevOps the perfect solution for end user-focused development.

You might have heard the phrase shadow IT, but what does it mean for a small business? Shadow IT is the increasingly common situation where technology is implemented without the knowledge of the IT department.

Shadow IT is not a new practice. Employees have used their own computing workarounds for years, using practices that are not acceptable to the IT department. Think, for example, of employees downloading company data to a USB stick, or using an unapproved software tool to complete a task.

What is new, however, is the scale of shadow IT. Gartner says technology professionals are making fewer IT decisions for the rest of the business. The analyst says as many as 38 percent of technology purchases are now managed, defined and controlled by business leaders.

Understanding the risks of shadow IT

The cloud is the key factor that has enabled this rapid growth of shadow IT. Employees can use the cloud to buy technology services on-demand, often without the say-so of the technology team. CIOs in large firms are being circumnavigated by line-of-business decision makers who are buying their own apps.

That's a problem for a variety of reasons. IT departments are unaware of what applications are being used and how data is being stored. When a service breaks and the business demands a fix, it could be the first time the IT team is aware the software is being used in the organisation.

Fixing that software could be a challenge, especially as the expertise to solve those service issues might lie outside the traditional IT department. Auditing software assets becomes a challenge too, as it's much harder to track and trace how software is being purchased, implemented and used.

Add in the serious security risk associated to unapproved services and it's easy to see why shadow IT has received a bad reputation. And while shadow IT can be a huge challenge for big firms, it can also cause significant issues for smaller firms. All those support, servicing and security issues could arise in your company as well, especially if the people running the business are unaware of how software is being procured.

Placing shadow IT into the context of small businesses

That siloed way of working won't succeed in a small business. One of the major benefits of working in a smaller firm is there tends to be a stronger sense of collaboration. When your business numbers hundreds, it's possible to get know most people well; when it numbers thousands at a global scale, it's impossible.

Almost two-thirds (61 percent) of SMBs agree or strongly agree that their company encourages and rewards collaboration, reports SMB Group. The researcher says as many as 70 percent of small firms agree or strongly agree that their communication and collaboration solutions help improve productivity.

Cloud and communication technologies are already playing a key role here, helping SMB employees to communicate anytime, anywhere. Yet there is more that can be done. Small business owners must encourage their workers to foster this adoption of digital technology and this sense of interactivity.

Rather than succumbing to the pressure of shadow IT, small businesses should embrace the opportunity to develop new innovative uses of technology. In fact, the close interactions of a smaller team make Agile and DevOps the perfect solution for end user-focused development.

Making the most of Agile and DevOps

SMBs can use the close connection between functions and individuals to create collaborative working practices. Rather than sitting in isolation, developers, IT specialists and business leaders can work on new initiatives in combination. They can work together to chat about business concerns and develop digital, cloud-based services to these challenges.

The mechanism for this collaborative approach is Agile methods and DevOps techniques. Rather than traditional Waterfall techniques, where business requests are cascading down to the IT department, Agile demands an iterative approach, where people across from the organisation work together to keep honing the digital solution to the business challenge

DevOps is the glue that helps bring development and operations teams together. It uses practices, like continuous integration and automated testing, to foster ongoing improvements in the services your business demands and creates. It's an approach that suits small firms perfectly, because of the tight working relationships between business units.

In combination, Agile and DevOps provide a way to overcome the issues inherent to shadow IT. Rather than going off and buying its own technical solutions through the cloud, the rest of the business is always working with IT professionals and developers. The result is better, flexible services that meet business demands and customer requirements.

Conclusion - Using the cloud to become more flexible

Shadow IT presents a considerable challenge for SMBs but it does not have to be an intractable one. Your firm can use the benefits of the cloud to foster new collaborative approaches to software development, possibly drawing on Agile and DevOps to create continuous improvements in the services it creates. The result is a clear business advantage for smart-thinking SMBs.