What Is Shadow IT? How to
Manage It Properly
& Avoid Application Sprawl

Posted on August 26, 2020

Shadow IT is the use of IT-related hardware and software without the knowledge or approval of your company’s IT department. Although this often happens with good intentions, it can have dangerous consequences for your business.


80% of employees have reported having used shadow IT services and applications. The risks of shadow IT have become especially concerning since remote working and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environments have increased exponentially due to COVID-19. 


Today we’ll learn more about shadow IT – what it is, its risks and potential benefits and how to manage it before it overtakes your business.

What Is Shadow IT?


While it may sound creepy or malicious, shadow IT (also called stealth IT or rogue IT) is a general term referring to the use of any technology, device or application in an organization without the knowledge or approval of your company’s IT department. Incidences of shadow IT usage have shown to be 10 times more than businesses estimate.


Now more than ever, users can install apps or subscribe to SaaS (Software as a Service) applications without checking with IT personnel. Using unapproved apps is usually done out of necessity, as businesses are often slow to respond to their users’ work demands.


When users or business units step away from company-approved platforms out of frustration, it’s a call to action to re-evaluate your software strategy. There’s a fine line between employee autonomy, creativity and productivity and business continuity. If multiple messaging, productivity and communication apps are utilized, it’s only a matter of time before teamwork between departments comes to a grinding halt. 


Security is an even more significant threat. When users take software applications into their own hands, they are often unaware of the corporate-level safety controls that IT departments routinely implement. This leaves the user – and critical data – susceptible to cyberattacks. Forbes reports that more than 1 in 5 businesses has experienced a cybersecurity event due to an unapproved IT application.

What Is Application Sprawl?


Application sprawl refers to the overuse of software applications in a system without design or planning. If you have a team in which people are using different tools, you may end up with duplicate work across multiple platforms or applications. The waste of time and money caused by this disconnected data is estimated to cost U.S. businesses $140 billion per year.


Shadow IT can create or worsen application sprawl. This is due to users adding applications independently, without knowledge of existing licenses or similar tools. Application sprawl is as costly as it is inefficient.


Before your IT department can “tidy up” applications to conserve resources (like network space and software budgets), they must understand the sprawl’s extent. Your IT team should evaluate your system as a whole and determine which applications are necessary and which ones add bloat.


Read: Hiring IT Staff You Can Count On


Examples of Shadow IT


Some typical shadow IT examples include:

  • Using personal email accounts for business communications

  • Replicating existing software applications

  • Using unsanctioned hardware, like flash drives and portable storage devices

  • Subscribing to third party SaaS applications

  • Customized databases, spreadsheets and macros


What Are the Benefits of Shadow IT?


Although the term comes with a negative connotation, shadow IT has some surprising benefits:

  • Shadow software applications are often better suited to the task at hand, increasing employee productivity.

  • Shadow IT solutions can provide a competitive advantage if they enable users to work more efficiently.

  • Employees evaluate their own needs and test applications with real-world usage.

  • Shadow IT solutions can be implemented instantly, saving time over lengthy software trials and provisioning processes.


What Are the Risks of Shadow IT?


When employees use alternate software, either on company equipment or their BYOD device, they may not be diligent about software patches and security measures. This results in security breaches that can be devastating to your intellectual property and data.


Here are some other risks of using shadow IT:

  • Implementing unapproved software can result in the installation of malware, exposing your business to malicious viruses.

  • Replicating existing software licenses increases costs and creates application sprawl.

  • Using non-integrated apps disrupts communication between users and departments.

  • Deploying alternative storage devices increases the chance of fines or penalties or fines if privacy regulations are violated.


How to Manage Shadow IT the Right Way


Managing shadow IT can be frustrating for your IT department because it’s their job to provide a secure environment for your users and data. Not knowing what they’re up against can feel like an uphill battle. 


While it’s almost impossible to prohibit the use of all shadow IT apps and hardware, it’s up to you to decide what level of shadow IT your business can reasonably manage.


Here are some tips on managing shadow IT the right way:


  • Require transparency: Implore your employees to be honest about the apps they’re using without fear of discipline or retribution.

  • Be open to new ideas: Understand the causes behind your shadow IT situation. Talk to your employees about the tools they need and what you can do to implement practical solutions.

  • Develop policies for software and hardware usage: Train employees on security measures and require adherence to established company guidelines.

  • Run regular scans: Continually monitor for unauthorized apps. 

  • Restrict access: Some third-party applications are known to be insecure or dangerous.

  • Focus on relationships: Know what each of your business units is working on and what they need to succeed. Keep the lines of communication open.

  • Fail to plan, plan to fail: While shadow IT may be inevitable, not having a plan to deal with it puts your business at much higher risk.


Keep Shadow IT Under Control With SugarShot’s Help


As business demands continue to grow and change, it’s crucial to understand how to satisfy your employees’ technology needs so that they’re less likely to look for alternatives on their own.


Constantly evaluating new solutions can be time-consuming and expensive. Engaging a managed service provider could be just what you need to manage your shadow IT while avoiding the expense and complication of application sprawl.


If you’re looking for the right IT support partner, SugarShot gives you the help you need. 


To learn more about SugarShot’s managed services, contact us today.

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