What is Shadow IT?

What is Shadow IT?

Some people hear the term "Shadow IT" and assume it involves covert, problematic practices that are done to undermine the integrity of an organization’s IT efforts. In fact, it’s much more nuanced than this.

Shadow IT refers to IT endeavors that are handled outside of a typical IT infrastructure without the knowledge of the IT department. It usually involves employees doing their own IT, such as troubleshooting issues, setting up their own security, or using their own applications on and off the cloud. 

Some people believe that shadow IT can provide benefits such as saving time and money, while allowing for more flexibility in an organization. While this may be true in some situations, shadow IT can also leave you with security holes in your system.

So what do you do? If you want to incorporate the benefits of shadow IT into your processes, you’ll need to be careful to mitigate the risks. After all, the security of your business is paramount.

The Perceived Benefits of Shadow IT

Individual Workflow

All businesses need to stay up to date with the most efficient tools. Shadow IT allows employees to experiment with new tools that may allow them to perform their duties more efficiently.

Faster Training

Instead of asking your IT team to spend time creating training materials and delivering training sessions, your employees will be able to teach themselves or use technologies they are already familiar with, making the whole process faster. 

Simplified Onboarding

Usually, an IT department would need to train a new hire on things like security protocols across multiple platforms and devices. This takes time. With shadow IT, new hires can manage a lot of their own IT decisions. 

Lower IT Costs

With shadow IT, employees can install, manage, and troubleshoot their own devices and applications, freeing up your IT team to work on other things. However, cheaper doesn’t always mean better, especially when it comes to IT security.

Reading through all of these points above, Shadow IT may sound like an attractive proposition. However, leaving these decisions to users who are not trained in best practices, or who are unaware of the big picture and the unintended impacts their choices can have, can easily yield negative outcomes.

The Risks and Realities of Shadow IT

Data Loss And Inconsistency

Allowing shadow IT means giving up some control over the way your data is managed. Each user can decide how to manage their company data, and they could make big mistakes. With users in charge of reporting data, there can be inconsistencies, which makes it harder to react correctly to data that would be properly reported by an IT team. 

Irregular Processes

If each employee is using technology in their own way, it's incredibly difficult to standardize your work processes and monitor progress. This irregularity might mean that information is lost and your team has difficulty working cohesively.

Compliance Issues

Compliance often has unexpected changes. Because shadow IT gives some control to users, who might be busy with other things, it can be very difficult to enforce compliance procedures. And if employees are worrying about other tasks, addressing new policies is unlikely to be a top priority, making things more difficult for your IT staff.


If something goes wrong with your IT, downtime can be a big problem. Shadow IT can make the problem worse, thanks to an inexperienced user trying to fix the problem or IT needing to perform additional discovery before being able to identify the fix. This could mean several hours to correct an issue that could have been fixed in minutes. 

Looser Security

The reduced security measures of shadow IT can simplify your IT infrastructure, but this does come with drawbacks. Multiple levels of security may seem like a nuisance to employees, but they can’t always see the bigger picture. Protecting your business should be a priority, and a multi-layered cybersecurity plan is the best way to do that. Without it, you’re at risk. 

Finding the Balance

Both allowing and prohibiting shadow IT requires clear communication with your team on policies and safety. There are risks and benefits to both approaches. The best approach for your business will depend on your IT and staff situation. 

It’s a good idea to discuss this topic with your IT specialists. They will have good insight into what the company needs in terms of technology and how much work they can safely handle. Your IT and security are a crucial part of your operations, and adapting to reach optimal security and efficiency is the goal of IT departments everywhere.

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