IT World Canada


Yogi Schulz

Published: April 1st, 2016


It was a dark and a potentially stormy meeting. An outwardly upbeat vice president with a cheery face was maneuvering determinedly to abandon his half-baked, unstable shadow system at the doorstep of the unenthusiastic IS department.

The CIO and his managers were listening carefully, cautiously and reluctantly. They clearly did not want to adopt this ugly orphan that is the common product of shadow IT software development.
As the meeting progressed, the vice president became paler and spoke with a lower and more desperate voice. Last week the shadow system had crashed at an inopportune moment (aren’t all crashes inopportune?) causing his entire division to come to a screeching halt for half a day. No one had realized just how integral the shadow system had become to smooth operations. Last week was the week when the rising star and proud father of the shadow system had been away at a management development retreat.

Shadow IT

Shadow IT is the label used to describe IT computing infrastructure, software and external IT services being used by business departments without explicit organizational approval and without IS department involvement.
Some pundits, with a positive outlook, view shadow IT as good because it’s an important source of innovation. Other decidedly skeptical pundits express strong opinions that Shadow IT is bad for most organizations. How should this scenario play out for the benefit of the organization?
Every bedraggled orphan is accompanied by a long-faced vice president who eloquently pleads for the IS department to take on this ugly urchin. Our alert CIO immediately realizes that he’s not just being offered a dirty orphan but a runaway train speeding into a curve.

Outsourcing shadow systems

The best course of action for the CIO, his or her reputation, and the organization is not to insource this looming disaster. A better answer is to refer the whimpering vice president to a trusted software development vendor to hammer out a maintenance and support agreement for the little angel with guidance from the IS department.
By properly organizing the outsourcing of maintenance and support, the CIO achieves a number of benefits including:

  1. Assigning professional maintenance and support expertise to a shadow system that has become important to the operation of the organization. This action will reduce outages, set the stage for implementing overdue enhancements and ensure value from the shadow system.
  2. Having the vice president pay for and recognize the full cost of maintenance and enhancement for an important system. Creating cost-awareness in the minds of executives will help the CIO during next year’s budget negotiations.
  3. Avoiding additional maintenance effort for an unstable system helps his overloaded software development staff. Insourcing would have added stress and reduced service levels overall.
  4. Avoiding blame for the next major outage that is certain to occur within a short number of months. No astute CIO takes it on the chin for an outage that is not of his making.
  5. Avoiding added cost in the IS department budget. The IS budget is already so large that it’s a prominent target at performance review meetings with the senior executives.

Can you share your experiences positioning shadow IT for value in your organization? Let us know in the comments!
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