What is shadow IT?

Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to the use of unauthorized information technology systems, applications, devices, or services within an organization. These can include software, hardware, and cloud services that are not officially sanctioned or managed by the organization’s IT department. Employees often turn to shadow IT solutions to bypass internal processes and policies, seeking more efficient or convenient ways to complete their tasks. While this can lead to short-term gains in productivity, it also poses significant risks to the organization.

Shadow IT history

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin or the individual who coined the term “shadow IT.” The term has been in use since the early 2000s and emerged as a way to describe unauthorized or unapproved technology systems, applications, and services within an organization. It is likely that the term evolved organically within the IT industry as a way to describe the growing phenomenon of employees using unsanctioned tools and software to perform their tasks.

However, some may claim that Michael C. Brezina, Michael C. Brezina, a security consultant at Gartner, was one of the first people to use the term, but there is no evidence to support this claim.

What are the risks of Shadow IT?

There are several risks associated with shadow IT, including:

  • Security breaches: Unauthorized systems may not adhere to the organization’s security protocols, making them more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and data breaches.
  • Data loss: Data stored in unauthorized systems may not be backed up or protected, increasing the risk of data loss in case of system failure or cyber-attacks.
  • Compliance violations: The use of shadow IT can result in non-compliance with industry regulations and legal requirements, leading to fines and reputational damage.
  • Inefficiencies: Unsanctioned IT solutions may not be optimized for the organization’s workflows, potentially causing disruptions and inefficiencies.
  • Increased IT costs: Shadow IT can lead to redundant spending on technology and resources, as well as additional costs for remediation efforts when problems arise.

Shadow IT benefits

There are a number of reasons why employees use shadow IT.

In some cases, they do it because they are not satisfied with the IT resources that are available to them.

In other cases, they do it because they need to access applications or data that are not available on the corporate network. And in still other cases, they do it because they simply want to avoid the bureaucracy of going through IT.

There are a number of things that organizations can do to mitigate the risks of shadow IT. One is to educate employees about the risks of shadow IT and the importance of using approved IT resources. Another is to make it easier for employees to get the IT resources they need. And finally, organizations can implement technology solutions that can help to detect and manage shadow IT.

Despite the risks, shadow IT can also be beneficial for organizations. In some cases, it can help employees to be more productive. It can also help organizations to be more agile and responsive to change. As a result, organizations should not try to eliminate shadow IT altogether. Instead, they should focus on managing it in a way that minimizes the risks and maximizes the benefits.

Tips  for managing shadow IT in 2023:

  • Educate employees about the risks of shadow IT. Make sure employees understand the security, compliance, and financial risks associated with using unauthorized IT resources.
  • Make it easy for employees to get the IT resources they need. Provide employees with a central repository of approved IT resources and make it easy for them to request new resources.
  • Implement technology solutions that can help to detect and manage shadow IT. There are a number of technology solutions available that can help organizations to identify and manage shadow IT.
  • Establish a clear policy on shadow IT. Make sure employees understand what is and is not allowed when it comes to using unauthorized IT resources.
  • Monitor shadow IT usage. Track the use of shadow IT to identify any potential risks.
  • Take action to mitigate any risks associated with shadow IT. If you identify any risks associated with shadow IT, take steps to mitigate them.

What causes Shadow IT?

Shadow IT often arises from the following factors:

  • Slow IT processes: Employees may turn to unauthorized solutions if they perceive the organization’s IT processes as slow or cumbersome.
  • Lack of awareness: Employees might be unaware of the existing IT solutions or policies, leading them to seek alternatives.
  • Unmet needs: The organization’s sanctioned IT tools may not fully address employees’ needs or may not be user-friendly, encouraging them to find alternatives.

Shadow IT examples

Some common examples of shadow IT include:

  • File sharing services: Employees may use unauthorized file-sharing services like Dropbox or Google Drive for easier collaboration and file access.
  • Communication tools: Unsanctioned messaging apps or video conferencing platforms may be employed for communication and team coordination.
  • Productivity software: Employees might use unauthorized project management, note-taking, or time-tracking applications to manage their tasks more efficiently.

Shadow AI: An Emerging Threat within Shadow IT

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to permeate various sectors, it’s unsurprising that a new phenomenon, termed “Shadow AI,” has emerged. This refers to the unsanctioned use of AI tools, models, or applications within an organization without the knowledge or approval of the IT department.

Why is Shadow AI concerning?

  1. Complexity: Unlike traditional IT tools, AI models can be hard to interpret and validate, making it difficult to ensure their accuracy and reliability.
  2. Data Privacy: AI models, especially those used in machine learning, require large datasets. Unauthorized use might compromise sensitive or proprietary data.
  3. Bias and Fairness: Unvetted AI models may inadvertently introduce or propagate biases, leading to unfair or discriminatory outcomes.
  4. Increased Costs: Training AI models can consume vast computational resources, leading to unexpected costs.

How to overcome Shadow IT?

There are several strategies organizations can adopt to address shadow IT:

  • Use a digital adoption platform: A digital adoption platform can help organizations streamline their IT processes, making it easier for employees to access and use the tools they need. By providing a seamless and user-friendly experience, digital adoption platforms can reduce the need for employees to seek out unauthorized solutions.
  • Improve communication: Enhancing communication between the IT department and other employees can help ensure that everyone is aware of the available tools and policies, reducing the likelihood of shadow IT.
  • Conduct regular audits: Regularly auditing the organization’s IT environment can help identify unauthorized systems and address potential risks.
  • Involve employees in decision-making: By involving employees in the selection and implementation of IT solutions, organizations can better address their needs and minimize the appeal of shadow IT.
  • Provide training and support: Ensuring that employees have access to training and support for authorized IT tools can help promote their use and reduce the need for unauthorized alternatives.

Updated: August 23, 2023

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