Is it time to bring shadow IT into the light?
Shadow IT is something all big companies will have to deal with at some point. Some see it as a boon to productivity, while others see it as a hindrance and a security risk. But what is shadow IT? And does it affect small businesses too?
In short, yes it does. In fact, it’s likely that practically all modern businesses, other than very small ones or sole traders, will have instances of shadow IT within their organisation.
Put simply, shadow IT is computer hardware or software that’s being used within an enterprise without the knowledge and/or support of the IT department.
Before the age of the internet and mobile devices, controlling shadow IT would have been much easier. Today, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and no amount of pushing and shoving is going to get it back in there.
Types Of Shadow IT
Not only do firms have to think about staff who want to use their own laptops or tablets, they have to take into account that nearly everyone these days carries a smartphone. All these devices can potentially connect to enterprise networks via wi-fi, and each one presents a possible security risk. Even if they’re kept off the company network, corporate data may be stored on them, and that comes with risks attached too. Mobile devices are easily lost or stolen, so sensitive data could easily end up in the wrong hands, and if these devices are not known to the IT team, then by the time they find out, it might be too late.
The internet is also a game changer, because it makes it trivially easy to install new software. Whether it’s desktop programs or mobile apps, unsupported software can cause real problems, due to incompatibilities with existing applications. And that’s if the software is downloaded from a trustworthy source. If staff install pirated software, it’s possible their employer could be the one that faces any legal action if they get caught.
Even worse, team members might inadvertently install malware, like viruses of ransomware. The financial impact associated with downtime and recovery from such incidents can be catastrophic for small businesses.
Of course, your IT department or provider can easily prevent users from installing unsupported software or using their personal devices on the workplace wi-fi. But shadow IT doesn’t end there. Even USB pen drives and online storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox count as shadow IT and can cause problems.
Not All Bad
While unregulated, unsupported IT solutions can have a negative impact, shadow IT is not without advantages too. An obvious one is the cost saving that businesses can make by allowing staff to supply and pay for their own technology, taking the financial burden off the company’s shoulders. Not having to buy company phones for everyone, for example, could be a massive cost saver.
Arguably, shadow IT can also enhance innovation and creativity. Instead of being restricted by lists of authorised hardware and software, users can be free to use whatever will help them do their jobs better and more efficiently. They might even find some new technology that helps colleagues and the business as a whole.
Finding A Balance
So how do you strike the right balance between flexibility and security? How can you enable your people to use the technology they want, but without it causing problems?
One answer is to perform regular security and IT audits, to find out who’s using what and what unwanted effects it might be having on the business. If you don’t know what you’re looking for and you don't have an IT department, then this task will be best performed by an external IT firm.
Another option is to use a managed service provider. With managed services, the management of your IT is handed over to your IT supplier, which will then constantly monitor your systems and networks. If any problems are flagged, they’ll be proactively fixed. This can help organisations to regularly keep track of what’s being used and by whom.
What balance you find will, of course, depend on your particular organisation's needs and aims, the nature of your industry, the size of your workforce and so on. But in any case, the rewards and risks of shadow IT are too great to ignore it completely.
Want to know more about managed services or IT audits? Contact us to find out how we can help your business.