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Tips for Managing Your Company’s Shadow IT Issues

Shadow Dance: Managing the IT You Can’t See

Shadow IT—the use of unsanctioned software and services by employees—is a problem. It’s a big one. According to Forbes, 72 percent of executives don’t know how many “shadow” apps are being used on their network. Beyond overloading network resources and impacting data compliance, there is also the real threat of security breaches from unapproved apps. Managing IT you can’t see is no easy task, but fortunately it’s not impossible. Here are five tips to help bring light to the shadows.


The first step in managing shadow IT? Identifying use. According to CIO, this demands constant network monitoring—how many services and devices are in use at any given time, and are they approved? Continuous scanning gives IT admins the heads up if a new device comes online or a new service is deployed, allowing them to zero in on suspect applications and employees willing to circumvent IT policies.


Of course, some shadow IT applications will slip through the cracks, potentially leaving corporate networks vulnerable. Information Age points to the need for an effective, automatic defense such as next-generation firewalls that are designed to recognize “thousands of unique applications, including those delivered over a SaaS-based model.” These firewalls also permit granular access control, allowing admins to permit or deny use based on need, role or risk assessment. In addition, they facilitate the development of a collaborative rather than combative IT culture by allowing users to continue using apps verified as low-risk.


Shadow IT is here to stay—cut off access to one cloud service and five more will take its place as employees look for the shortest path between technology and business objectives. While it’s impossible to destroy shadow IT outright, there are other areas in your enterprise that could benefit from some creative restructuring. As noted by IT Business Edge, key components of uncontrolled shadow IT proliferation are the departmental silos that naturally spring up around technology. By tearing down these walls and ensuring that all users are on the same playing field, you reap the benefit of much-improved IT sightlines.


Of course, all of these steps result in only a temporary fix if IT admins don’t take the time to develop companywide access and use policies that specifically address shadow IT. It starts with an evaluation of risk—what’s the potential impact of a breach, or the backlash of cutting off all users from non-approved apps? No matter the ultimate decision, it’s important to create an IT policy that is clear about expectations and consequences, and is uniformly enforced across the enterprise—regardless of role, title or department, everyone must be bound by the same rules.


The final piece of the shadow IT puzzle? Thinking long term. Tech News World discusses shadow IT in the light of Sei Weng’s “The Lost Horse”—a Chinese proverb that speaks to the unpredictability of fortune. When Sei Weng’s horse goes missing, his neighbors commiserate—but he argues the event could actually be good fortune, and sure enough the horse returns with a powerful stallion in tow. They congratulate him, but Sei Weng notes that not everything is at it appears; the new horse later throws his son and the result is a broken leg. For IT, the lesson here is taking the time to dive headlong into shadow IT and see how it’s really impacting your business. Seemingly innocuous apps could be doing major damage or exposing sensitive files, while large-scale file storage apps might actually provide long-term value.

Want a better look at shadow IT? Discover what’s happening and defend your network, destroy silos and then develop a companywide policy in discussion with employees.

By John Grady, Senior Manager of Product Marketing

XO Communications is a nationwide provider of managed network and IT infrastructure services. At XO, John has been responsible for launching numerous products such including XO’s 100G Service and several XO Cloud Services.

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