The pace of innovation continues to increase while, at the same time, the barriers to entry for innovative tech providers are lowering – particularly for small app developers. (The now ubiquitous Flappy Birds is a case in point.)
In my opinion, a paradigm shift occurred with the smartphone revolution and especially the launch of the iPad. IT suddenly became simple. The same applies to enterprise IT: it could be a great deal simpler while achieving more and lasting longer – less is most definitely more.
The iPad was an empowering device and, in just a few years, has changed the computing landscape and user expectations. Not least, because hardware and software set-up is now available in minutes.
Yet, the reality for the vast majority of corporate IT is a continued dependence on desktop computers that are at least two or three years behind the innovation curve.
While the latest tablets boot within a few seconds, our arrival in the office heralds the start of a routine which involves hitting the desktop 'on' button and then disappearing to the coffee machine and a wander down the corridor for a chat with colleagues before we can start our digital day.
Not only is this a regular frustration, it very often doesn't reflect the 'always-on' environment of mobile corporate life, or even the home environment where fast broadband, smart TVs and well-spec'd home PCs frequently eclipse the office infrastructure.
A shadowy environment
As a result not only of these frustrations, but also the ease of access to software and applications via the internet, a "Shadow IT" world has emerged.
When slow systems set-ups begin to impact on the performance of an organisation or its individual departments, teams start to take infrastructure development into their own hands. For example, for around £10 per month, you can download one of several project management products and be off and running with your team before they can say: "roles and responsibilities".
There's no procurement process required and if there is, it certainly doesn't rest with the IT department. Managers and team leaders do not need to venture outside their own departments for consultation, all they need is access to a browser.
The result is a potentially serious loss of control, from an organisational point of view. In fact, an IT team within a large London Borough recently told me it now has serious concerns about the lack of control of private data due to the number of cloud-based apps are being actively used within the organisation.
Running from the shadows
So what action can IT departments take to shine a little light into the shadows? In fact, there are a number of steps that can help IT regain control, or at least become a valuable part of the development process. These are:
- Accept – the fact is, the IT world has moved on and IT departments need to accept the predicament. It requires recognition of a no-win situation where, for non-IT staff, the bird will always be flappier in the next app that comes along and the IT department will be seen as a barrier to progress. Difficult though it sometimes is, it requires a positive attitude towards treating systems as enablers.
- Act – develop an IT strategy which is based on this acceptance and put in place tools to monitor 'shadow IT'. For example Airwatch can be used to control company data on a mobile device, while Good Technology also provides protection systems to reduce the likelihood of the company assets being compromised.
- Educate - help the business as a whole, and senior managers in particular, to understand the challenges raised by indiscriminate importing of applications, services and infrastructure – especially the implications for data protection or the impact of stop-start, cloud-based services.
- Investigate - it is unlikely that those lurking in the IT 'shadows' will fully understand, or even recognise, the implications of remote data storage for example. Safety, back-up, privacy, compliance – all of these issues are unlikely to be top of the knowledge tree for marketing, HR or sales teams. Investigate the applications they are using and be armed with clear facts and evidence to support their use, or uninstallation.
- Catalogue - create a clear, transparent and easily accessible catalogue of apps and services that could add value to the business and are compliant, compatible and safe to use. Being seen to actively encourage innovative technologies and allowing users to utilise them themselves will result in a greater willingness for collaboration and consultation.
- Be special – create a 'special projects team': a cross-section of staff from around the organisation. The team can be developed to proactively identify and test new IT tools and method for business transformation.
- Do it yourself - IT departments should be actively using cloud-based services themselves to remove the drudgery. For example to run e-mail, reduce the server estate and free-up time and resource to allow innovation and adding value to the business as a whole.
- Dr Peter Chadha is CEO of DrPete Inc and Chairman at Steegle.com. He is an IT consultant providing strategic IT reviews and implementation to global enterprise. He takes a pragmatic approach to business solutions, but remains a technology evangelist at heart.