What is Shadow IT and How Do You Combat It?

From Slack to Google Drive to Dropbox, the amount of productivity and workflow tools available on the market just keeps growing. And many of these tools are available to anyone at the click of a button through cloud-based applications and services, making them extremely easy to access and user-friendly. 

These tools are exceedingly useful and can often make an employee’s work more efficient and of higher quality. But there can be a downside to your employees using these types of applications. 

This downside comes in the form of what’s called shadow IT and can open your business up for possible data breaches or compliance violations. In this article, we’re going to talk about what shadow IT means and how business owners and managers can combat the dangers of shadow IT. 

What Is Shadow IT?

First question first, what exactly is shadow IT? Well, shadow IT is the term used when employees in an organization use various information technology systems, such as applications or software services, without notifying the IT department or receiving approval. 

Shadow IT has grown with time and is actually quite common in almost every company. This growth is due to the abundance of cloud-based products available online for free. These products make it so easy for employees to find and use different tools that make their job easier (even though this use unknowingly makes the IT department’s job much harder).

One simple and easy-to-understand example is the slew of free cloud-based products offered by Google, such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, or Google Hangouts. Unless you’ve exclusively been a tried and true Microsoft enthusiast for the past 15 years, you’ve likely used one of these products before. They are incredibly popular because they offer great features for individual consumers—and they’re free! 

Take Google Docs, which allows collaborators to easily contribute, edit, and share documents in real-time. This is a great feature that makes it easy for teams to work together efficiently even if they are in different offices or— as many of us have been working for the past year—from home. But the problem comes when individual employees begin using Google Docs without the approval or even awareness of the IT team. 

When employees begin using tools outside of those provided by, approved, and monitored by your IT team, it impairs your security and compliance position because no one’s making sure the data used on these platforms stays safe and supervised. But unfortunately, shadow IT is increasingly prevalent because the use of these various applications and services can improve productivity and drive innovation. Employees don’t realize the IT risks and are just trying to do their jobs better and more efficiently. Many don’t realize that when they start using Google Sheets because they think it’s easier to collaborate in real-time than the spreadsheet service actually permitted at their organization, they’re putting the business at risk. Instead, they just think they’ve found a way to do their job better. 

How to Combat Shadow IT

The difficulty with shadow IT is that it actually does drive performance at many companies. When employees are able to use the tools that fit the way they work, productivity and quality skyrocket. But with data breaches and other types of cyber crime looming so large, letting each employee use whatever tools they want unsupervised probably isn’t a risk organizations are willing to take, even if it does result in better work. But there might be a way to balance the two competing interests in a way that continues to drive innovation but also keeps data safe. 

1- Ensure All Of Your Employees Are Aware of IT Policies and Best Practices

The first step in combating shadow IT is to bring awareness to shadow IT and ensure that your employees understand the dangers it presents. When employees find and use unauthorized applications and software, they most likely don’t even know that it might be a problem for IT and security. They just think they’ve found a great new tool! So, be transparent with everyone at your organization about the risk of data breaches. Give them insight into the work your IT department does to keep all of the company’s data safe and secure and how certain actions can unknowingly jeopardize this security. Further, be very clear with what applications and tools are approved by IT. Help your employees understand what’s available and what’s off-limits, and why.

2- Ask Your Employees for Input on Existing and Potential Tools

Next, to capitalize on the productivity shadow IT provides, stay up to date with new and better tools and what your employees like and don’t like. Employees seek out new products because they don’t feel like their current choices are providing the best experience or outcome. So get ahead of the problem and create a system where employees can provide feedback on the approved tools so that you can make changes if something better is available. That way, workers won’t feel the need to go out and find something new on their own. 

3- Develop a Robust and Fast-Acting IT Solution

Finally, to combat shadow IT, make sure that you have an agile and adaptable IT solution in place. When authorized tools are experiencing bugs, but IT is slow-moving to fix them, employees will look to outside tools to get the job done. Don’t let them feel the need to do this! Many companies might think they can’t afford a robust IT team, but with outsourced IT providers, it’s easier than you think to create a team that’s able to respond to problems quickly and effectively

In Conclusion

Don’t let shadow IT creep into your organization and lead to a compliance violation or data breach. Cybersecurity is essential in every business, and it’s a lot harder for IT departments to do their job when every employee is using different tools and spreading your data across hundreds of different platforms.

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