Throughout time, superheroes have always had that one enemy, their worst nightmare, they have fought hard to triumph. Just like how the Jedi had to fight Darth Vader. Not too far away, shadow IT invokes similar fears in the minds of IT leaders.

You’re not alone in thinking so; our recent study, The Digital Disconnect: A Study of Business and IT Alignment in 2019, confirms that 78% of IT and business leaders agree that shadow IT has increased greatly over the past 5 years and that 70% of IT leaders think it’s a bad thing. But what if you were told shadow IT shouldn’t be feared? That when governed, shadow IT is, in fact, the secret behind your organization’s success. Puzzled? Read on.

Why shadow IT exists?

Shadow IT is the existence of devices, software, and services outside the ownership, control, approval, or knowledge of IT. While shadow IT has always been lurking in the dark corners of an organization, the advent of easy-to-purchase SaaS has brought it to the forefront. But decentralized adoption of SaaS is not the only reason why shadow IT has grown rapidly. Some other factors include:

Stringent IT policies and the rising impatience:

Formally, most large organizations have complex IT procurement processes with strict controls in place. While the intent is to secure the company, these processes straitjacket users from innovating and delay the business units from bringing in new tech to solve their day-to-day problems. It’s not unexpected then when you zoom in, the reality on the ground is vastly different. There’s growing impatience among business users to break free from the IT red tape. The result is a parallel shadow IT organization fueled by ad-hoc SaaS applications and apps built off desktop databases or spreadsheets.

Growing IT backlog:

It’s the truth – IT backlog never stops growing. Our research found that 77% of IT leaders and 71% of business leaders agree that IT teams have a huge pipeline of new IT solution requests, which aren’t being built. Most of IT’s time and efforts are exhausted on maintaining and updating the existing enterprise technology set-up. Add to this, there is a growing and immediate need for business applications and a stark shortage of skilled developers to build them. Gartner predicts that the demand for applications will outstrip IT’s capacity to deliver by 5x. All these factors combined inhibit IT’s ability to build new business-critical apps needed to advance the company’s digital agenda.

Organizational silos:

Oft times in large organizations, functional departments turn into fortified silos. The limited cross-functional collaboration makes it difficult for IT to have visibility into the problems the business teams face and the technology solutions they adopt to solve them. Furthermore, the best-equipped makers (developers) are kept away from the business users who need these solutions. This includes physical distance (physical office), organizational distance (reporting structure/immediate supervisor), incentive distance, and more.

Given the complexity, long wait-times, and lack of right processes and tools, it’s no surprise that business users prefer to take matters in their own hands and find refuge in tools like desktop databases, spreadsheets, SaaS applications, etc. to fix their problems.

69% of business stakeholders think shadow IT is good.

The perception game

If shadow IT is as bad as it sounds, it’s not hard to imagine that even business leaders, just like 70% of IT leaders, would perceive it as a negative. But here’s an interesting fact – our survey found that while both business and IT leaders agree to shadow IT having increased dramatically, 69% of business stakeholders think that shadow IT is good. In the eyes of a business leader, shadow IT solves real problems that employees face regularly, and this far outweighs the need to follow IT governance rules. Here’s what the same study reported on business stakeholders view of the benefits of shadow IT:

Business leaders view of shadow IT

Fixing shadow IT’s problems

Let’s make it clear – we don’t recommend a Wild Wild West situation, where every employee is free to build or use any technology with no regard for the company’s security or IT policies. Instead, we propose a new approach that fixes shadow IT’s biggest problems, while keeping its benefits. This new approach is called citizen development. Citizen development is all about empowering business users to build software using IT approved tools.

Citizen development can help companies:

Boost productivity:

Business users have a deep understanding of their domain and are the most motivated to solve their problems. When empowered with the right tools, they can build apps needed to streamline their internal processes, automate manual tasks, and overall, make an existing business process better. Bonus – with the internal productivity apps built by business users (citizen developers), companies can make substantial savings on operational and app development costs.

Improve customer experience:

On the front-end, companies are heavily investing in customer-facing technology like native mobile apps and chatbots to engage better with customers and improve their experience. However, when the customer fails to get what they want from the front-end tech, they often turn to customer support for answers. This back office is a messy web of phone calls, emails, spreadsheets, and even paper forms. On any given customer support call or email, the support team is navigating the messy web of information— often encountering data quality issues — to resolve the customer’s concern.

The result is a disjointed process that makes for extremely frustrating customer experience. Much of the shadow IT currently lives in this chaotic mess of back-office operations. When given access to the right tools like low-code, the operations teams can build back-office automation to improve their ability to deal with customer requests.

Promote IT-business collaboration:

The truth is business and IT need each other to build apps that solve business problems. This could mean building complex legacy migration apps to modernize your infrastructure or building native mobile apps to create an engaging customer experience. Irrespective of the use case, when business users get involved early-on in the app development process, they can help IT by providing valuable domain expertise and ensuring the app meets business requirements in optimal time. Another benefit of making the app development process more accessible and collaborative is that the citizen developers can help reduce the IT backlog by building basic productivity apps.

Reduce risk:

One of the biggest problems with shadow IT is the lack of visibility – visibility into the apps that exist in the organization, what they do, and who owns them. This blind spot makes the company vulnerable to data risk and security threats. It could also paralyze a function of the business when a business user who owns the critical application suddenly leaves the company, leaving the app unsupported and undocumented. With an IT-approved tool like low-code, every business unit can build multiple apps while IT still has visibility and control into the entire app landscape of the company and the data it produces.

Citizen Development is a win-win situation.

It’s counter-intuitive, but shadow IT exists and that’s a good thing (for the most parts). Don’t think of shadow IT as a supervillain that needs to be vanquished and with it the innovation and productivity gains it brings along, instead, govern it using a citizen development program and a low-code platform. Citizen development is a win-win situation – the business can build apps to solve their immediate problems, while IT still has the knowledge, visibility, and control of all the apps that are being developed and used in the company.

Govern shadow IT with citizen development