I've been thinking lately about organizational barriers to Web 2.0 and one of the thoughts I had was that the IT department can get in the way of implementing a lot of social media and Web 2.0 tools.
It appears that Ben Worthen of CIO Magazine is seeing this too, as he reports in a recent article, Users Who Know Too Much (And the CIOs who Fear Them). In the article, Worthen introduces the concept of the "Shadow IT Department" that has developed as a result of users having unprecedented access to Web 2.0 tools that make them more productive on the job:
"An April 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 45 percent of adults who use the Internet said it has improved their ability to do their jobs “a lot.”
These are your employees, and their message couldn’t be clearer: Technology, at least in their eyes, has made them significantly more productive. But CIOs shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back just yet. For this productivity boost the study credits the Internet, not enterprise IT, not the technology you provide, not, in short, you. And while Pew’s finding undoubtedly includes people who use the Internet to access your corporate applications, Lee Rainie, the Pew project director, says the research is not pointing to what a good job CIOs have been doing. . .
According to Pew, 42 percent of Internet users download programs, 37 percent use instant messaging, 27 percent have used the Internet to share files, and 25 percent access the Internet through a wireless device. (And these numbers are all one or two years old. Rainie “would bet the ranch” that the current numbers are higher.)
Does that sound like the tools you’ve provided your company’s employees? Do you encourage them to download programs and share files? Do you support IM? Have you outfitted a quarter of your company’s employees with wireless devices? (My emphasis added)
Ben goes on to suggest that we're experiencing the growth of a "shadow IT department" that is the result of the "fundamental disconnect that has always existed between those who provide IT and those who use it."
"Users want IT to be responsive to their individual needs and to make them more productive. CIOs want IT to be reliable, secure, scalable and compliant with an ever increasing number of government regulations. Consequently, when corporate IT designs and provides an IT system, manageability usually comes first, the user’s experience second. But the shadow IT department doesn’t give a hoot about manageability and provides its users with ways to end-run corporate IT when the interests of the two groups do not coincide." (My emphasis added).
The culture that has developed in many IT departments is one that says that when users want some new functionality, there's usually a reason why it has to be done IT's way, or else they promise they'll make a change . . . eventually.
Worthen suggests that IT departments shouldn't even bother trying to fight Shadow IT. It's a recipe for stalemate or outright defeat, he says. Instead, IT should be following the "golden rule":
“There’s a simple golden rule,” says David Smith, a vice president and research fellow at Gartner. “Never use security and compliance as an excuse for not doing the right thing. Never use these as sticks or excuses for controlling things. When you find that people have broken rules, the best thing to do is try to figure out why and to learn from it.”
Other strategies that IT Departments should use to deal with Shadow IT include:
- Find out how people really work.
- Say "yes" to evolution
- Ask yourself if the threat is real.
- Enforce rules, don't make them.
- Be invisible.
Worthen concludes that "Messy but Fertile Beats Neat But Sterile." I couldn't agree more.
How does this apply in nonprofits? Well I'm not sure how active the Shadow IT department is in many organizations. It's been my experience that nonprofit staff are much less likely to be pushing things like IM, wireless devices, etc. although I think this is beginning to change. And as it does, I think more and more IT departments will find themselves dealing with Shadow IT.
Even if they aren't doing so now, though, I think that these are issues for organizations to start considering. There's a reason that users in companies are drawn to Shadow IT solutions--they help them get their work done more efficiently and effectively. To me, it seems that one of the responsibilities of IT staff in an organization should be to act as technology stewards rather than technology gatekeepers. Worthen's article is a great way to re-think IT's role.