Shadow IT apps – ripe for moving to the Cloud?
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Shadow IT apps – ripe for moving to the Cloud?

Cloud - Shadow IT apps – ripe for moving to the Cloud?

Posted by Eric Dirst onin Cloud Computing

A favorite past-time of mine is to say the phrase “shadow IT apps” and watch the reaction of people in the area. IT personnel will respond with rolled eyes, frowns, or grimaces.  Business department personnel respond with knowing smiles, winks, and smirks. This kind of reaction highlights a big gap between IT and the business personnel. Therefore, for the IT personnel out there, I have a proposal for you.  Instead of rejecting, discouraging and not supporting shadow IT, I challenge you to instead embrace it and support it. You are probably asking yourself, why should I do this?

I believe that burying your head in the sand won’t make these apps go away, and if you aren’t participating with the business, then you aren’t part of the solution. The primary reason shadow IT applications get built is because IT is either resource constrained or un-responsive to the needs of a given business unit. Given IT resource constraints, this will always be the case, since demand always out-strips supply for IT solutions inside every company. Rather than spending your time trying to ask for budget that the company cannot afford, instead consider embracing shadow IT development as a form of R&D for the IT department. We know that the hardest part of building applications is the requirements gathering. The great news with shadow-IT developed apps is that the business spends their own time iterating and figuring out their requirements as part of the process of building shadow IT apps.  Usually shadow IT is developed using Microsoft Access or linked Excel Spreadsheets.  If these applications start to become widely utilized in the business area, IT can offer to help convert the app to be enterprise ready, scalable, backed-up, ready for DR, and basically supported and documented.  The best part is the business has already figured out what they really need from the application, and also what doesn’t work.  They key is to offer to help, without ridiculing what was developed.  Focus on making it scale, and addressing any opportunities to close gaps that the shadow IT teams couldn’t address themselves. This will ensure the business see’s value in IT getting involved.

Now, this all sounds good, till you realize that it is quite a bit of work to convert a Microsoft Access built shadow-IT application to something scalable like a web enabled .Net app with a Microsoft SQL Server clustered-database back-end.  So, I have a suggestion. Why don’t we instead take our IT chosen PaaS platform, train up those shadow-IT pseudo-developers, and let them build their shadow-IT apps in the Cloud?  An example would be teaching them to build their shadow-IT apps on the force.com PaaS environment from salesforce.com.  Environments like force.comare often as simple, or easier, for business tech-savvy personnel to configure/code as the old mainstays of Access and Excel. The better news is these PaaS environments are already built to scale, have automated backups, and have robust and tested DR environments.  All they are missing is better integration with your back-end systems, quality documentation, and a trained team to support the application.  That’s where IT comes in.  IT can take a PaaS shadow-IT developed application, evaluate it for modifications to improve processing and ensure design/scalability is considered, while also building integrations to back-end systems that remove manual processes or eliminate batch feeds from extracts/reports that are typically utilized by shadow-IT development groups. Then, IT can add documentation to meet IT standards, alerting & monitoring for your NOC, and train up the IT support teams to support this new app.  Then you turn around and embrace the original shadow-IT developers by giving them the title of “solution architects”.  These solution architects now participate with your IT team on rapid iteration and releases of new functionality for your shadow IT developed app.  The business will be ecstatic, IT will look like a true partner in delivering solutions to the business, and the business will get a supportable platform that meets their requirements.  What could be better than that?

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