The emergence of cloud puts IT in an awkward position familiar to seasoned pros: Business employees are bringing in new technology through the back door, without seeking permission from IT or even letting IT know it's being done.
That's how PCs got into the corporation in the days of the mainframe. It's how the first company websites went up in the 90s. And now it's happening with software-as-a-service (SaaS) and other cloud apps.
Salesforce.com drove the bottom-up cloud revolution, according to David Linthicum, writing on InfoWorld:
Salespeople within enterprises needed a useful CRM system, and instead of begging IT, they used their own credit cards to purchase a Salesforce.com subscription. Eventually, IT figured out Salesforce.com was pervasive in the enterprise and took over the implementation, settling on the strategy by default.
More recently, the same bottom-up strategy has been used by business workers signing up for file sharing services, office automation applications, and even bigger tools such as mass storage and compute services from IaaS and PaaS providers. "We seem to be OK with users and developers figuring out the cloud, then IT coming in and making sense of the arrangements," says Linthicum.
But that creates problems, he warns:
My message to IT shops is to step up. Define, refine, understand, and publicize your cloud strategy, then implement your plans in small phases. IT should drive any technological shift from the top down. Moreover, in doing so, IT should make sure it understands user and development requirements as related to the company strategy.
Business divisions know their own needs, but not the needs of the larger enterprise, he says.
Hollis Tibbetts, writing at ebizQ, agrees. One bad outcome of this kind of "shadow IT" approach is information silos, with individual business processes spanning multiple unintegrated applications. Getting a single view of the entire business is extremely difficult:
Salesforce.com is the grand-daddy of SaaS applications -- having practically invented the category. I've spoken with companies that [have] as many as 20 different and unconnected instances of Salesforce. Ouch.
Anybody with $25 to spend and 15 free minutes can create another new data silo for their corporation.
Cloud adoption needs to be both top-down and bottom-up, with IT providing infrastructure, integration, and lighthanded governance, while functional groups pick the best SaaS apps that plug into the infrastructure provided by IT.
The IT department would be wrong to try to stamp out shadow IT entirely, because "good ideas can come from anywhere in the organization," writes my colleague Susan Nunziata at Enterprise Efficiency:
"We have 45,000 employees and 15,000 affiliated positions," said Scott Blanchette, SVP of Information and Technology Services at Vanguard Health Systems. "We believe the innovations and new ideas are going to come from that [overall] group, not just from an innovations team or a lab. We [in IT] try to guarantee some level of chaos, and then govern that chaos in some ways."
"Guarantee some level of chaos." I like that a lot. Business is inherently chaotic. Business requires chaos. The trick is to keep the chaos at a manageable level.
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ó Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution