Humans are naturally inquisitive. Most of us like to explore and try new things. Many of us like to tinker. I remember when I was 8 years old, I devised a way to turn my bedroom light on and off using string and pushpins. I later figured out that I could pick up all the little Lego pieces using a Shop-Vac in a tenth of the time it took me to do it by hand. My parents didn’t know I had gone rogue with the pushpins or the Shop-Vac, but after a few safety ground-rules, they publicly applauded my ingenuity and secretly wiped the proverbial “at least he’s not doing drugs” sweat from their brow.
Fast forward to modern day and I’m still constantly on the lookout for ways to make my life and job easier. Whether it’s building a keyboard shortcut for sifting through emails, or finding a new cloud app that automates a task for me every Monday – I’m an optimization junkie. And it’s when I’m doing this that I’m actually at my best — the time saved directly correlates to time I can spend being be more thorough or strategic in my job. In other words, I think my company is better off when I’m using the Shop-Vac for their Legos.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop trying to optimize. But if I do, it will be for a few different reasons:
If I stop to think about it, I’ve got 5 or so friends that are just like me. Heck, we bore other friends just talking about the latest app we’re using to make our lives easier. “Did I tell you about IFTTT?” “Dude, you were right about Boomerang!” “Holy crap, have you tried Slack?”
It’s with this backdrop that I question our industry view of Shadow IT. For years we’ve used this term to connote “anti IT” or those that are intentionally skirting around the rules and established systems for reasons that are, at best, due to laziness or a disinterest in following the rules, or at worst, because they’re maliciously minded and out to flout the rules. But how often have we stopped to think that these folks might actually be our best, most creative, most energized people?
Before you start thinking I’m toasting my band of super nerds, or saying that shadow IT will save the world, I will tell you that working at Netskope and understanding the quality of some of these apps has been a little eye opening. After all, reading the terms and conditions, or confirming the SOC-2 attestation of these apps isn’t exactly my strong suit. I suspect that I’ve introduced quite a few security holes in the places I work, but I’m hoping IT can help me grow up! And frankly, for my company’s sake, IT needs to protect me from myself at times.
What I am suggesting is that we re-orient our thinking about shadow IT. We don’t have a shadow IT problem; we have a shadow IT solution! What if we start getting these folks together for departmental hack-a-thons? Or maybe we should be hosting an “ideas” community where folks can share their enthusiasm and vote up things that merit IT sponsorship? Let’s tap into this vein of ideas! As a former IT guy, I also selfishly want IT to gain a reputation as the purveyor of this way of thinking. I want us to bask in the limelight for having embraced shadow IT while also helping it grow up a little and become more secure for the company and the employees sake. My guess is that every company has a band of super nerds who may never stop singing your praises once this starts happening… provided they can stop talking about that latest app they’ve discovered that will forever change your life. 🙂