Shadow IT: When Users Want to Make IT Decisions

Be it work, sport or games, a lot of people have a competitive streak that drives them towards better results, again and again. Especially at work, there are many reasons to strive for success. Respect of bosses and co-workers, pay rise, promotion or a prospect of a better job, all those things drive us towards doing the best we can.

But what if there are artificial obstacles to productivity?

That’s exactly the problem many employees all over the world face daily. They strive for better results, effectivity or just user comfort, but are held back by company IT and their rules.

Even when employees feel that a particular application could make their job much easier, they can’t use it on company’s equipment. The installation is blocked by their limited user rights – which pushes a lot of people to trying to circumvent them. This is what experts call shadow IT.

There are good reasons for limiting user rights

Anyone who has ever worked with a company notebook or computer has come across this problem. Their work could have been made much easier by some tiny change or addition, but they lacked the admin rights to approve the changes. Installing a tiny helpful app is blocked because of a blanket rule. Company policies forbid unauthorized software on their equipment and new applications can only be installed by admins.

To anyone in company IT, the reasons for these decisions are crystal clear: users can’t be trusted with elevated permissions, giving them unlimited control over company computers would endanger security or the prospects of getting ISO or other certificates. Another reason for limiting users’ access to unauthorized apps is that the company’s IT support would be swamped with incompatibilities between programs and other issues. And at the end of the day, it’s about trust as well. Many administrators have lived through horror stories of employees misusing and abusing company equipment – like installing non-compatible printer drivers to the whole department, because someone was ‘trying to help’, or moving the Wi-Fi bridge out of the room and duct-taping it to a balcony railing because ‘it was taking up space inside the office’.

“The less privileges users have the better. We, administrators, should be the one to decide what applications they use.” That’s the point of view of many business IT departments, and some of them have held it for years.

However, it’s not actually a perfect solution. This is precisely the reason why there is shadow IT among their users – the more adept employees don’t abide the rules and go around the security settings just to use software that could make their lives easier. Everyone wants to improve their work results and make their jobs easier and more comfortable.

Shadow IT has roots in desperation, not rebellion

According to Frost & Sullivan’s The New Hybrid Cloud report, users resort to Shadow IT because of several reasons. Almost half of the users know unauthorized applications better than their authorized counterparts or find them more comfortable to use. More than a third of the people surveyed felt that the authorization process that the new apps need to go through is slow and cumbersome. And 24 percent of them thought that the unauthorized app met the needs of the job better.

Reasons for unauthorized app use

But administrators’ reason for not installing some applications are sound. They can be a danger to company security, could violate the terms of some certificates or are just inferior to other software the users haven’t heard of yet, but that will do a better job.

How to resolve such situations?

The optimal solution is somewhere in the middle. Experts think that the most important thing is to listen to your users. The ideal IT department should make everyone’s job easier, not more difficult or uncomfortable by disallowing a few much needed apps.

Not everyone needs to have high administrative privileges, though, and some programs are just not suitable for company use. Even massively used apps tend to have security issues. And the problem might be even smaller, like a licensing one – whereas the app might be free for private use, companies may need to purchase a licence or even pay monthly subscriptions for its use. That is why authorization processes do have their place in corporate IT – they help the experts reveal hidden problems that normal users don’t know about.

It pays to work with the users very closely. After adoption of a new app, the IT department should evaluate whether it fulfils its role and makes employees’ jobs easier. That’s the only way to prevent the rise of shadow IT and improving your whole company.

What about your experiences?

What are your experiences with shadow IT? Do the users in your company ever try to bypass the rules? Do they ever ask for unreasonable or outright dangerous apps? Or are they on good terms with their IT experts and consult their needs with them regularly? Share your experiences in the comments.

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