What CIOs Can Learn from Shadow IT

Posted on February 19, 2015

When employees or groups of employees rely on unmanaged devices, source their own mobile apps and cloud services, and create their own technology workflows, it's called shadow IT. And for most IT departments and CIOs, shadow IT is a major feature in nightmares and security worries.

But Breezy partner MobileIron recently published a blog post called How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Shadow IT that offers a slightly different view. Viewing the practice as nothing but a problem to be stamped out, the article says, misses the underlying reason that employees and workgroups create shadow IT practices: that the tools IT is providing users aren't doing what they need.

MobileIron wrote, "Rather than trying to stamp out shadow IT, which is practically impossible since users will almost certainly find a way around whatever blocks IT imposes, CIOs should see shadow IT as an opportunity. It's an opportunity in the sense that it highlights, often very clearly, where something isn't working for people. Instead of trying to wage war against people who are trying to do their jobs as best they can " something that will appear as punitive and unjustified to those people " a more forward thinking and long term approach is to engage them, understand their needs, and work to resolve the issue in a way that works for them and for IT."

It's impossible to allow this kind of shadow IT activity to continue, of course. And, as MobileIron wrote, it's nearly impossible to stop it entirely. So what should IT do. The best course of action is to identify where the problem began, and respond in one of three ways.

  1. Providing or improve the tools in question and resolve the issue by giving employees the functionality they need.
  2. Find or develop a way to support and secure the tools currently being used in an unmanaged state.
  3. Source alternative tools that can be managed and secured but deliver the same functionality and user experience.

Dialogue & Education Go a Long Way

Jared Hansen, CEO and founder of secure mobile printing leader Breezy, says that mobile printing can become the "missing link" that causes users to start their own shadow IT infrastructure. That's the conclusion of a TechTarget report called Enterprise BYOD management: An IT Guide.

"We see it all the time with mobile printing. Employees who are just trying to get the job done find it difficult or impossible to print to the company network or a printer in a business center, hotel, at home, or a client office. So they download one of hundreds of apps from a consumer app store that promises to enable printing, and unknowingly set up their own shadow IT situation."

Mobile printing might look like a relatively small issue from the executive suite, but from the viewpoint of an employee who needs to print something urgently, it can be a huge problem that requires creative thinking to solve on the fly. A look at the numbers quickly shows how easy it is for an unsecured mobile printing app to create a problem.

"Android and iOS tablets and smartphones feel like miniature computers to users," explains Hansen. " But they were designed to be consumer devices, and what native print infrastructure is built into the operating systems doesn't meet common enterprise needs." Add in the fact that most companies have to support multiple print vendors, mobile operating systems and network configurations, and it's no wonder that mobile printing can be a challenge for IT.

The best way to avoid having users create their own shadow IT solutions by downloading apps that allow them to print while bypassing company security and data policies, he says, is to open a dialogue and provide ongoing training for employees. "Your employees don't want to create security holes or problems. They just want to get the job done. If you take the advice MobileIron offered, and look at a shadow IT situation as a kind of constructive criticism that points out a need to be filled, it goes a long way towards avoiding more serious problems."

Breezy's secure mobile printing technology is fully integrated with MobileIron and other leading EMM providers like AirWatch, Citrix, Good Technology, IBM (Fiberlink's MaaS360), and many others, and can add an extra layer of protection to the mobile devices that connect to your network or store your data. For more information on mobile device security and secure mobile printing, watch this video from Breezy, download The Definitive Guide to Mobile Printing, a free ebook, or click here to schedule a Breezy demo now.

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