How your digital workplace puts an end to Shadow IT

Workers use a huge diversity of apps at work, from note-taking apps like Evernote to file sharing apps like Dropbox. In fact, 80% of workers admit to using SaaS applications at work, in many cases without IT approval, according to a recent Stratecase survey. This ‘Shadow IT’ is helping to make businesses more competitive and employees more productive in many ways. The employee’s decision to use them in the workplace feels natural because they may be using them already in their life outside work. But at the same time, this unauthorized use of tech is a problem. Find out how a digital workplace can help you limit the risks.

Risks of Shadow IT

The use of Shadow IT is a common problem. Employees want to get things done with the best possible tools but are not aware of the risks, which are a great burden for the IT department as they are responsible for ensuring security and compliance for the corporate data employees upload to cloud services.

  • Software used may not have the right level of security. This can be a risk for data breaches.
  • Content and info stored in cloud-based systems may still exist after the employee has left the organization and it may never be removed. This means there could be sensitive data stored in the cloud of which the company is not aware and has no option to control it.
  • Applications outside the IT scope may not have essential policies applied to them. For example, GDPR or password formats. This makes your company vulnerable to data breaches.
  • The adoption of company approved applications may be low if workers use their own applications.
  • The enterprise search will not surface information from alternative applications.

Why do employees use Shadow IT?

It’s very difficult to completely prevent an end user using unapproved software if they have their mind set on it. It’s often a real struggle for the IT-department.

The most sustainable and sensible approach is to positively influence their behavior so workers stop using Shadow IT because they know the risks and can find an “official” tool that meets their needs in the digital workplace. This is challenging when you have a diverse workforce and an organizational culture where employees don’t like being told what to do.

To positively influence the behavior of employees, we need to understand why employees use Shadow IT.  Typical reasons are:

  • There are no tools to collaborate easily with team members and external people
  • The process to install software is too complex or takes too long
  • The digital workplace has a bad use experience – such as confusing interfaces or slow loading pages
  • Employees need to get something done fast and this is best done by using an application which isn’t offered by the digital workplace
  • When employees find it hard to access particular content, documents or services on a mobile device or outside the company network, they might look for alternative approaches
  • Recently acquired companies use different systems where the central IT governance is unclear
  • A person is particularly keen on using a specific program, but it is not offered by the company
  • The employee is unaware that using unapproved software is not allowed or discouraged

The best approach to beat Shadow IT is a strong digital workplace

Employees mainly turn to Shadow IT when the existing digital workplace doesn’t offer them a more viable or better alternative, or they are unaware that it does.  Therefore, the best approach to tackling shadow IT is to offer a compelling digital workplace with a strong employee experience, that provides the tools that allow users to:

  • Find the content they need
  • Get things done fast and easy
  • Work from anywhere at any time, from any device
  • Collaborate with colleagues and external people

A good digital workplace does not only reduce the need to use alternative solutions but also provides a  reason why they shouldn’t be using a particular tool. Telling an employee not to use a certain tool is very hard if there isn’t a good alternative provided.

Possible approaches

When creating a digital workplace while trying to reduce Shadow IT, here are some approaches to consider:

Establish clear and robust governance

Robust governance is at the center of a digital workplace. It is essential for tackling Shadow IT to have clear rules about what IT is authorized and why. Without clarity about what is unauthorized it is very hard to reduce the problem. Governance is a massive topic in itself and covers several different factors such as GDPR, data security, compatibility, value, cost, branding, ability to offer efficient support and more.

Appropriate measures need to be put in place, based on your governance structure. For example, blocking some programs while making others accessible.

Collaborate with early adopters and innovators

Certain people love trying out new tech and innovating. By engaging with this type of persons and encouraging them to experiment with technology, you meet their desire to play with the newest cool applications in a less risky way. If you keep up with upcoming technologies you can use your innovators to select the tools you certainly need to introduce into the digital workplace.

Create awareness of cyber risks

Employees need to be conscious of the risks of Shadow IT. Looking at the very real threat of security risks and how unauthorized programs and associated user behavior (such as bad password management) contribute to these risks is a good way to start. Involve a senior manager to emphasize the importance of your message.

Stimulate adoption of particular programs with support and guidance

Limiting Shadow IT is all about driving adoption of the official, preferred tools. There are a lot of ways to achieve this including providing support and guidance, particularly through peers and champions networks, but also encouraging and highlighting use through integration with your intranet.

Provide a choice of tools

People like to work differently using a wide range of applications. The capabilities of one tool might suit one task, but not the other. Giving end users some choice over the tools they use can satisfy the needs and preferences of employees. One solution does definitely not fit all.

Closely monitor on emerging needs and emerging tech

Companies and digital workplaces are constantly changing. Keeping an eye on the new trending technologies which could be used in your organization, as well as the new needs which arise among workers, can help limit Shadow IT. In fact, this is often one of the main reasons organizations look for an Office 365 intranet like Involv. It helps them get the most out of the Office 365 tools they already use today and provides instant access to the latest innovations from Microsoft.

Reduce the need for Shadow IT!

Shadow IT is a risk for all companies, but can be best stopped by offering a strong digital workplace and toolset. If users love their workplace technology and can complete all their tasks they are far less likely to turn to unauthorized solutions. Digital workplace teams should also highlight the risks of using other systems and help workers ge the most out of the existing tools.


Tim Bogemans

Tim is Collaboration Expert at Involv/Cognit. He builds leading solutions to help people collaborate easier, faster and happier. Connect on LinkedIn.

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