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Shadow IT makes IT departments more, not less, relevant

Technology trends such as self-service BI and cloud-based content management software give IT departments job security, not pink slips.

As new technologies infiltrate a company's four walls and transfer greater control to mainstream business users, the question remains, just how relevant is IT? Writer Nicholas Carr asked that question more than a decade ago. Yet, in the wake of technologies like cloud computing, mobile devices and social media, IT's role continues to be an important issue.

Other offerings, from self-service business analytics to cloud-based content management, have enabled users to take the reins from IT and drive the bus on their own. Self-service business intelligence enables executives and marketing departments to crunch the numbers without the help of data analysts. Likewise, applications such as Box allow workers to collaborate with one another -- even when they're out of the office.

IT team still needed

But the reality is that even when applications are business user friendly, IT is still a key part of the equation. Despite Carr's assertion that "IT doesn't matter," one can argue that shadow IT actually makes IT departments more, not less, relevant.

Let's consider self-service BI and cloud-based ECM software: two examples where shadow IT necessitates that traditional IT manage these applications.

Analytics is about releasing raw data so that data analysts in sales, marketing and operations (departments other than IT) can gain insight into their business. ECM software enables users to make changes without support from programmers and without being subject to strict controls. Although technical in nature, these tools are typically "owned" by marketing, but IT still needs to provision these self-service applications, deal with data silos, ensure security and keep application performance humming along.

The proliferation of diverse technologies reinforces job security for IT professionals. As companies embrace analytics, digital business, and social media, IT departments are best positioned to ensure that these technologies and data silos function properly and work together seamlessly and securely.

Mitigating shadow IT risks

Companies may seek help from outsourcers and consultancies-- which do certain things well-- but fall short when it comes to integrating the various technologies within a company. To handle this complex undertaking of seamless integration on a daily basis, companies are best served by an internal IT department that is knowledgeable in the business and committed to supporting it for the long run.

As data endlessly proliferates, securing that information is a critical issue. Corporate executives are taking an increasingly keen interest in security because it can have a direct impact on their company's brand value.

Users can sometimes stealthily introduce lightweight cloud-based ECM technologies into their companies without official IT sanction (or even awareness). IT departments need to get in front of these backdoor efforts -- not to block them, but to ensure that software applications are compliant with company and industry policies and don't create possible data breaches. Again, IT is perfectly positioned to make sure workers keep their data and content protected and accurate.

Managing a realistic IT strategy A strategic part of the IT mandate is to help its company determine the risks and rewards of investing in technology, and to make it happen. This is even more relevant in an environment like today's, where technology is so diverse, accessible and constantly changing. From an unbiased perspective, IT leaders can best determine applicability and establish the cost savings, competitive advantages and time to market of these technologies. But they also need to explain their findings in terms that business and executive constituencies can understand. In other words, IT departments are in the best position to create a very pragmatic picture of their company's technology landscape.

Yet, selling a vision internally is not a traditional role for IT leaders; it doesn't come naturally to them. They're more accustomed to implementing projects and keeping things running -- that's their DNA. But given the rapid speed of technology, IT professionals don't have the luxury of waiting for a DNA mutation. They must add the "strategic vision gene" to it -- and fast.

Therefore, new technologies continue to be a friend of IT professionals who are willing to adapt and upgrade their skill sets. IT jobs are certainly not at risk, but they will require updating, which is a familiar concept to us.

No matter how disruptive a new technology may appear to be, there will always be a demand for tactical jobs that seamlessly integrate, maintain and secure a company's data and processes.

As technology and business continue to merge into one, IT professionals willing to change their own DNA and develop their ability to communicate with business stakeholders in simpler terms to sell their vision can more than likely claim greater strategic leadership roles.

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