Thursday, January 31, 2013

Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?

Being 107 years old, you would think I have vivid memories of Radio Dramas. Unfortunately I have never heard the original radio broadcasts of the show “The Shadow”, but I understand its opening introduction used to say, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” This was followed by an evil laugh, Muhahahahahahaha.

Corporations have their own mysterious evil, called Shadow IT; a group of tech-savvy business users who take it upon themselves to construct solutions out of office productivity tools, such as Microsoft Excel or Access, and sometimes out of application development tools such as Sharepoint, Lotus Notes, or VisualStudio .Net.

For years, IT shops embedded within modern corporations have attempted to seek out, surround, and strangle Shadow IT groups. The success rate has not been stellar. In an organizational dance akin to Whack-a-mole, IT never seems to stomp out the last one.

I am beginning to wonder if maybe we have approached this wrong, rather than trying to kill Shadow IT off, maybe we should embrace it.

Consider this; after almost 30 years most business still have some form of Shadow IT, and it is often the source of true innovation and creativity. Yes, it is a Wild, Wild West of non-compliance, “OK Corral” shoot’em-up sort of productivity. But often times Shadow IT is the genesis of really good ideas.

The problem is that Shadow IT functions, well... in the shadows. Therefore, the business users are reluctant to even acknowledge when they’ve got something good for fear that the evil IT Empire will shoot their laser cannons of governance at the products and move the solutions into the molasses of ice-cold requirements gathering - and worse - Prioritization!

Maybe there is a better way. Maybe we should think of Shadow IT as incubation centers, each located within the business units that need rapid, spontaneous answers to emerging business opportunities. The trick will be to identify those solutions that should be “operationalized” into resilient, scalable, secure products - without throwing the workset to the back of the queue.

No matter how hidden, circuitous, or fragile Shadow IT solutions may emerge, they all have one thing in common - they address an unmet need. Somewhere deep within the piles of Excel macros, Access forms, Sharepoint lists, and Notes scripts is a fundamental requirement that points to the achievement of a business goal. We should embrace that!

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