Aug 28, 2009 (04:08 AM EDT)
Shadow IT: A Plague on Good Governance

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

One of my favorite technology terms is "Shadow IT." The term is not employed often enough, and its role in undermining good information management should be more widely broadcast, because Shadow IT represents a plague on content management.

For those of you that don't know, Shadow IT refers to the technology that has been deployed (and once in a while maintained) outside of the formal IT organization. Commonly it refers to teams or groups who figure they can do things better and cheaper than by going through the normal IT channels.I have come across dozens of Shadow IT efforts in my time, and the business owners all have wonderfully cogent arguments to justify their actions. For example:

IT doesn't understand our needs; last time they screwed up so badly you wouldn't believe it! Support from IT is so bad it makes a lot more sense to just do this locally. Can you believe what IT wanted to charge the department for seats on that application? We can do it for a fraction of the price ourselves. IT is always behind the technology curve. Our competitors are way ahead of us, and we can't wait for IT to catch up.

Most of the time it's a variation on the themes above. Frankly, if I worked in some of those departments I might well feel just as strongly and figure myself equally justified. But fixing a local need can have an impact on more global needs, and often enough the impact is an unwelcome one. Worryingly, running a Shadow IT department has become easier the last few years, due to the introduction of open source, SaaS, and low cost options, many of which can be deployed via a simple download or flick of a switch.

The simple fact is that many Shadow IT directors are not quite as smart as they think they are and they make many mistakes. They often also have little time for such tiresome activities as testing and building clean development environments. But the bigger problem for us as content management professionals is the proliferation by Shadow IT groups of uncontrolled repositories across the enterprise. Multiple repositories all with their own structures (or lack of) no central visibility of content assets, duplication and content redundancy running rife, a compliance and regulatory nightmare. A local problem fixed, a global problem created.

As my good friend Lisa Welchman would tell me "it's a governance problem," and is likely one that won't go away quickly or easily. As products like SharePoint and open source alternatives such as KnowledgeTree, and Alfresco continue to grow in popularity -- it's a problem that may well grow too.

To be sure, newer SaaS and open source content management vendors targeting business buyers can offer decent enough (if sometimes overhyped) alternatives, and CMS Watch evaluates them as any other in our research services. The problem is not the vendor. It is not Microsoft's fault for example, that SharePoint has grown virally in many organizations. It is the lack of governance at the network, application, and content levels within enterprises that is to blame.

The future is likely to feature more options, more modular services (think SOA), more open source, more user-driven and user-configurable applications -- and if we are not careful more chaos. Shadow IT is a blight, but it is a blight that strikes due to local good intentions, and a global lack of governance.One of my favorite technology terms is "Shadow IT." The term is not employed often enough, and its role in undermining good information management should be more widely broadcast, because Shadow IT represents a plague on content management.