Lighting up shadow IT

One of the more unpleasant experiences of working in a modern IT department is that you can never deliver fast enough for your customers. Our modern business culture expects fast flexible solutions to keep up with dynamic markets and volatile customers. But in IT we are often saddled with legacy systems that were never designed for these kind of quick turnarounds. The systems were built for security, redundancy, dependency and minimal change. Any changes should take place as part of planned annual or bi-annual release.

Unfortunately, our customers have different expectations – they want to get new functionality out there in a matter of weeks or months. This has led to the concept of Bimodal IT, which we have written about in several blog posts. Bimodal IT envisages a balance between stable heavyweight systems on one hand and agile, flexible development on the other.

Unfortunately, many companies are having problems making this transition – so their internal customers often resort to “Shadow IT”. They build their own flexible solutions for getting what they want when they want. Many of the shadow systems that I’ve seen are based around Access databases and Excel sheets. Quite often, they are surprisingly sophisticated, with their owners writing their own SQL queries for production databases! There are Excel sheets with complicated algorithms written in VBA, pristine input forms and colourful reports. Necessity is the mother of invention – or shadow IT in this case!

All this effort may be quite impressive, but it’s doesn’t exactly conform to the idea of an IT department where some kind of process, security, overview, redundancy, back-up and reliability are expected.

So what can you do? In theory you could migrate the legacy system to a newer more flexible approach. However, it takes time to raise the support and money to get the project approved, not to mention the time to actually carry out the migration. And what do you do in the meantime?

Sometimes you need a more radical solution. Similar to shadow IT, you need to by-pass the monolithic silo in the corner – but this time you do it as part of IT! You build the fast, flexible solution with business within the IT, offering you the chance to maintain it and keep conformance with process and security regulations. For instance, if you require a new workflow, then you extract the relevant data from the legacy system, allow users to interact and change the data, and when they are finished, the data is synchronised with the legacy system. The legacy system continues using the data, none the wiser that the new workflow is external to it.

There are already products on the market aimed at exactly this issue. Sclable was one that caught our eye recently. Sclable takes an unusual pure database approach. Literally everything is in the database – data models, workflow, user permissions, designer and user interfaces. It literally takes model driven design to the next level. It has numerous connectors to read and write data from legacy systems. Using this approach new workflows or reports can be created outside the legacy system, but within the IT, in a much shorter turnaround time than would be possible with the legacy system alone.

Shadow IT is a pressing issue in the IT world and one that needs to be addressed. It wastes business resources, results in inconsistent logic and technologies, reduces the impact of new systems, impedes their acceptance and could lead to loss of data or other leaks. It’s time to take this IT out of the shadows and back into the light – which can be done if IT can offer a fast and flexible way to fulfil their needs.



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