Do you remember all the talk about ‘Shadow IT’?

Just a short time ago, it was a topic on the tip of every CIO’s tongue. Now, it almost never comes up in executive conversations and is rarely worthy of press headlines. The question, however, is why?

Have IT organizations vanquished this particular foe? Have they just given up the ghost and accepted that they’ve lost control?

Or is there a bigger phenomenon at play here?

Remembering Shadow IT

“I’m old enough to remember when we had shadow IT.” I heard this statement from a software company CEO just a while back. She continued, “It’s an old thing now. We’re evolving. IT is back on the table.”

The CEO’s point was that as the complexity of the IT stack has grown, the days of pulling out a credit card and buying a subscription to Salesforce were over. Her position was that with all the security concerns, the importance of data, and the ever-more-complex interweaving of applications to support the customer experience, business leaders need a specialist to help them sort through it all and are no longer willing to step out on their own.

Frankly, I don’t buy it.

From one perspective, the CEO is correct. The modern technology stack is infinitely more complex than at any time in our history. And that complexity has unquestionably led to increased security concerns and data integration demands among many other things that IT organizations must now handle.

Despite the need to deal with all of these issues, however, I don’t believe that business units have lost their appetite for taking control of their own IT destiny.

In fact, the reason I believe that we are no longer discussing shadow IT is not because there is an insignificant amount of IT-type activity occurring outside of the IT function. It’s just that the most progressive IT leaders have accepted them as legitimate IT functions and have welcomed them in from the shadows.

Out of the Shadows

I discussed this phenomenon in my first book, The Quantum Age of IT, over five years ago — before we were really talking about shadow IT.

At the time, I called it ‘the competition for IT’ and discussed how nervous business executives were coming to the dual realization that technology was now core to their survival and that the IT organization was incapable of moving fast enough or being agile enough to give them what they needed. So they were taking matters into their own hands.

IT organizations predictably responded by demanding that they stop — driving these business leaders into the proverbial shadows. But even then, progressive CIOs understood that trying to force all things technology to remain under the purview of IT was wrong-headed.

During a talk show series I did in conjunction with Intel several years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Patty Hatter, McAfee’s then CIO and COO, about this subject. She explained that when she took over the role of CIO, her team wanted her to crack down on the shadow IT running rampant in the organization.

Rather than attempting to force the shadow IT door closed, however, she explained to her team that trying to forcibly eliminate shadow IT was the wrong approach. Instead, she told them that they needed to build trust and demonstrate IT’s value — and then let everyone focus on where they could provide the most significant value to the organization.

Most progressive and future-minded IT leaders have come to the same realization. As technology has continued to evolve and become more intuitive, and as business leaders have become more technology savvy, organizations have been changing how they look at the entire lifecycle of technology acquisition, deployment, and management — and who is responsible for which parts of it.

Most importantly, IT and business leaders alike are recognizing that competitive advantage is going to those organizations who can most successfully enable the spread of IT far and deep into the enterprise to support and enhance the customer experience. And in that vision, there’s no concept of shadow IT.

A Customer-Centric View of IT

An organization’s ability to transform the digital experience is now the driving force behind competitive differentiation in the marketplace. As enterprise leaders have come to this realization, they have likewise recognized that they must deploy and leverage technology within every facet of the customer journey to create advantage.

Moreover, a new generation of intuitive, business-friendly tools is making it easier to move more of the technology footprint squarely into the hands of non-IT business units.

The evolution of technologies such as so-called no-code and low-code platforms, analytics tools designed for business consumption, and even cognitive engines that don’t require data scientists are all blurring the line that distinguishes when and where business units need IT.

At the same time, however, there is a growing recognition that delivering a differentiating experience throughout a customer’s journey is bigger than any one business unit or functional responsibility. In most organizations, in fact, IT is one of the few teams that participates in the entire end-to-end customer lifecycle.

Moreover, the customer experience spans the entire lifecycle of a customer’s engagement with an organization — and thus cuts across virtually every customer-facing and back-office functional unit. As such, it is essential that the modern enterprise eliminate the disconnects, communication failures, and baton-drops that have been endemic to the large enterprise from the beginning.

Today, customers will just not stand for an enterprise organization that cannot deliver a consistent and enjoyable experience throughout their engagement lifecycle — and certainly won’t accept the dated ‘it’s not our department’ excuses.

To meet these new expectations, therefore, the enterprise must leverage technology at every step of the customer journey, but must do it in a coordinated, cohesive fashion. As a result, they must maintain engagement-level awareness as customers engage with different parts of the organization.

In the end, IT leaders are finding that while they may no longer control everything technology-related within the enterprise, they have an even more critical role to play: protector of the customer experience.

The Intellyx Take

The customer experience depends upon many capabilities working together in concert. A customer’s data must flow seamlessly and fluidly among the systems with which they interact — and which employees are using to guide interactions. The enterprise must also maintain security and privacy throughout the process, but also not allow these concerns to get in the way of the experience itself.

IT is the only organization within the enterprise that can deliver on this promise. But IT cannot do so by attempting to control the totality of the technology stack. Instead, it must do just the opposite.

The modern IT organization must recognize that the right place to instantiate, deploy and manage technology is as close to the point of customer engagement as possible.

But it will be IT’s job to make sure that all of those pieces remain connected, agile, and dynamic so that the organization can deliver a winning customer experience now and then continuously adapt it over time as customer expectations shift.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: Georgie Pauwels.

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