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Your pointy-haired boss 'bought a cloud' with his credit card. Now what?

Shadow IT: Pray he didn't link the... oh for @£$%^&

Sysadmin blog Shadow IT strikes fear into the hearts of many businesses. Unfortunately, most businesses fear shadow IT for all the wrong reasons.

It is easy to have a discussion about Shadow IT with different areas of the business by talking about risks that affect them directly. Legal can be made afraid by bringing forth the bogeymen of data sovereignty and data locality. Executives and finance people can be made to flinch by showing them the real costs of using the public cloud over a three-year period versus doing it all in house.

IT nerds can be made to fret about shadow IT simply by talking about "losing control". For some, losing control of something IT related is an existential threat to their job. For most IT types, however, losing control of anything is simply antithetical to their nature and they're working double-time to squash it.

None of these issues, however, are the really big reason to fear shadow IT. They are symptoms, not the root cause. The root cause of the problems brought about by shadow IT is groupthink.

We all like to laugh at the Dilbert cartoons where the Pointy Haired Boss reads something silly in his magazine and then demands that one of the characters implement it. Are we in the cloud yet? Have you tried virtualizing it? Ha ha, we all laugh, that silly PHB.

But there's a public cloud now. With the wave of a credit card the PHB, the secretary or anyone else can actually do these things. IT by magazine isn't some theoretical concept. It's a real thing that can and does happen in the real world. It could be happening in your organization today, and you might never know it.

Mob rule

So why is this such a bad thing? Surely it's nobody but the boss's problem if a PHB goes off half-cocked with a credit card and decides to waste money, right? Wrong.

First off, it doesn't take much for the PHB to suck data out of a production system and inject it into the public cloud. Maybe they do this in a manual fashion every time they want something. Maybe they read a decent article that told them how to do it in an automated fashion. Maybe they even hired a consultant behind IT's back to get the jobs done. Either way, once the credit card is swiped, there's a real chance data goes where it doesn't need to be.

Now I'm going to sidestep the legal issues of this and focus on the practical. The PHB is exfiltrating and manipulating this data outside of the purview of IT for a reason. They are seeking to accomplish something. The problem is that they very likely don't have the skills or experience required to accomplish that something on their own.

This means that the results of whatever they are doing are likely to be inaccurate. Worse, shadow IT rarely stays confined to a single service. Inappropriate or inaccurate handling of inputs can corrupt an entire chain of data, resulting in the business building and relying upon business processes and IT services that don't do what they're supposed to do, in large part because IT wasn't involved in the first place to do the relevant integration and quality control.

Someone has to fix that. The PHB isn't going to admit their mistake to the nerds, so they'll start trying to learn enough to fix it themselves. Remember how you got sucked into systems administration? I bet it started a lot like that.

This nouveau IT and associated business processes is governed by different rules than traditional IT. Traditional IT has always been highly risk averse and knowledge heavy. Learn about the tech, learn about the business processes, engineer solutions, build models, test, document, change manage.

Shadow IT is owned and overseen by individuals who are used to taking a lot of risks. People who live in the moment, lives focused on deadlines and quarterly budgets. They are governed primarily by immediate fears and are reactionary rather than proactive about problems.

The PHB who has decided to embark upon a shadow IT journey has lined themselves up to be a junior systems administrator, running loose with zero adult supervision and just enough knowledge to be dangerous. The budding PHB admin will usually talk to other PHB admins, while IT-by-magazine slowly becomes the consensus of the uninformed.

This is the true threat of shadow IT. The ease of implementation allows inexperienced individuals to make decisions about technologies and services that will underpin vital business processes based on emotion, consensus, groupthink and peer pressure. It is mob rule with a credit card, and it may be an unavoidable part of all our futures. ®

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