The Difference Between Good and Bad Shadow IT

Philippe Winthrop has been researching, designing and implementing mobility, Internet of Things, digital business transformation, managed services and SaaS solutions for nearly 20 years. Today, Winthrop serves as one of the product marketing and strategy leaders at DXC Technology. He works closely with CIOs to co-develop technology and business strategies based on new emerging technologies. I reached out to better understand his point of view regarding shadow IT. In my experience, digital savvy CIOs embrace the notion of non-IT lines of business bringing new technologies into their company. Digital savvy CIOs are more collaborative and willing to champion concept to commercialization of capabilities at scale, even if the innovation or new technology is coming from outside of their organization. Another important trend is the correlation between slow digital transformation leading to expansion of shadow IT. Today’s connected employee, or department, is not willing to allow IT to dictate what tools are approved in order to get the job done. That said, there seems to be common denominator with these open-minded CIOs – a well-integrated and capable DevOps.

<a rel="nofollow" href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/philippewinthrop/" target="_blank">Philippe Winthrop</a>, Digital Transfo
Philippe Winthrop, Digital Transformation, Mobile and Internet of Things Solutions Architect/Product Management

Here is Winthrop’s point of view regarding good versus bad Shadow IT:

Did you know that ‘digital transformation’ is the hottest topic in IT today? Of course you did. The use of disruptive technologies like cloud computing, social networking, mobility, internet of things, the app economy and artificial intelligence is driving massive product, service and business model innovation opportunities at unprecedented rates. Digital business transformation is such a pervasive a topic that it’s very unlikely for a business leader to randomly view a technology or business publication without seeing at least one article on this subject.

Democratizing Tech IQ and a shift from control to collaboration and co-creation of value.

For some technologists, the topic of digital transformation may be déjà vu all over again. In the 1990s, we called it “eBusiness” and before that – in the 1970s and 80s – we called it Business Process Re-engineering. Regardless of what you call it, digital transformation is all about how an organization can improve its business processes and stakeholder experiences, with the latest technologies. What’s different today, it the pace of new technologies being introduced in the consumer market and the fast rate of adoption of said technologies in businesses – cloud, mobile, social, wearables/IoT and AI powered apps.

Another key difference is that in the past, technology knowledge was mostly confined within the IT department, and as such, IT could control all the technology based business process reengineering. Today, people within non-IT departments are so tech savvy that they are increasingly frustrated by their perceived lack of speed and innovation within their IT departments….which of course caused the rise of the now infamous (and bad) Shadow IT – where the line of business goes out on its own to create and implement its own IT strategy that is in all likelihood is not sanctioned by the IT department.

Innovation can come from anywhere, including middle school developers.

But allow me, if you will, to share a video on Periscope from Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce. It’s an absolutely fantastic video of a 13 year old boy from a school in the Boston Public School (BPS) system. In the video, he’s speaking at a local Salesforce.com event about how he and his teammates built a mobile app leveraging their platform after having started their Trailhead program. They built a mobile app called “Suggestion Box” so that fellow students could provide suggestions to their school on how they could improve the physical plant (e.g., bigger lockers) or anything else for that matter, and then have the students vote up their favorite suggestions so that the faculty, staff and administration could take their ideas into consideration.

This story blew my mind because it’s a perfect example of Shadow IT – I love this story! But, wait a second. Didn’t we just say that Shadow IT is a bad thing?

The difference between good and bad shadow IT is DevOps.

Shadow IT can have negative business impact because it breaks with all the processes and rigors that the IT department is so diligently trying to put in place for their employer’s digital transformation! Digital transformation needs rigor to succeed and has to start with the IT department identifying and implementing the right DevOps tools. Once the development tools are in place, then we can put in the methodologies for interaction with the various lines of business and make sure that we have a governing board and Center of Excellence in place to make sure that we can successfully fail fast. Digital transformation will fail if the lines of business are left on their own and go rogue.

Digital transformation is not about technology, it is about culture of trust and optimism.

The key to an organization being able to successfully implement its digital transformation absolutely does require strong DevOps. But I don’t believe it has anything whatsoever to do with the technology you use or the governance model you put in place. Successful shadow IT is based on faith and trust.

Back to the 13 year old in the Periscope video who presented his team’s mobile app. Yes, they built the app on a platform that is sanctioned by the IT department, but the essential component of the app’s (hopeful) success is that the faculty, staff and administration are genuinely open to getting feedback from the students. In the business world, we call that Executive Sponsorship.

Technology-led business transformation starts with leadership buy-in and active support.

It absolutely does not matter how secure this mobile app is, how well it’s designed (UX), how well it’s engineered, how many students use it to suggest new ideas or how many other students vote up (crowd source) the suggestions, if the administration won’t genuinely be open to listening to and implementing the suggestions coming from the students and the app.

As it turns out, the adults think this mobile app is so innovative that it’s going to be a part of the $1 billion investment that the city of Boston is putting into its “Build BPS” project – a 10 year program to make every school in the BPS a 21st century school. Kids will have an amplified voice within their community…something I might add that would have never happened when I was in middle school or high school. That is the beginning of a true digital transformation at this Boston public school and the BPS system.

The best use of technology and innovation is to improve the quality of life.

The student team is not done however building their app. In the next version, they’re thinking about adding a mechanism so that every Friday, the students will be able to suggest what next week’s school lunch will be, literally suggesting if pizza will be on Tuesday or if chicken nuggets will be on Thursday.

This may sound trivial but, the truth of the matter is that, for many of the students in this school, lunch is the only square meal they get each day. Having that one healthy meal that they will actually look forward to could actually be an incentive for them to come to school that day and get the education they deserve and will need to succeed in their lives.

What these students are doing is not just delivering good Shadow IT – what my friend Brian Katz likes to call “Shadow Innovation” – they are delivering a simple, yet innovative, mobile app for the social good that is going to do a lot to improve their community and the school system at large. That’s great Shadow IT if you ask me.

This article was co-authored by Philippe Winthrop (Twitter: @apwinthrop).

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