It’s Time to Kill Shadow IT

It’s the most important step to improve relations between business teams & IT

If you’ve spent even a small amount of time working inside or around the enterprise, you’re no doubt aware of the acrimony that defines the relationship between business teams and IT. To put it bluntly, business teams hate IT, and IT hates business teams. 

While hate may be a strong word, the acrimony is undeniable. It’s also understandable; a product of competing priorities. Business teams want to optimize for speed and flexibility, and in turn desire solutions that provide them those abilities. IT, on the other hand, seeks standardization, maintainability and security.

These interests are often diametrically opposed to each other; in fact, they sometimes actively inhibit each other. And when they do, the working relationship between business teams and IT begins to resemble that of opposing political parties — collaboration only coming in spite of their conflicting agendas.


How the rift began

It’s been like this since the dawn of the cloud in the early 2000s, when business teams, liberated from the demands of on-premise software, were able to begin shopping for their own technology solutions, giving way to an explosion in enterprise app adoption. This gifted business teams much in the way of increased functionality but also had the unintended effect of inundating companies with an immense amount of SaaS. The average enterprise today reports using around 1,295 separate SaaS apps or services

For enterprises, this inundation has had several deleterious effects. For one, it inculcates in the hearts and minds of all employees — be they on the business or IT side — no small amount of app fatigue, which itself leads to what Prosci calls “change saturation.” This is the point where the number of apps you buy — and procedural changes you subsequently make — exceeds the capacity of individuals to effectively adopt those apps and make those changes. 

It has also contributed directly to the withered relationship between business teams and IT. 


How so? By giving birth to increased amounts of shadow IT.

Simply put, the cloud made it easier for business teams to bypass IT in designing their own operational solutions. Every time a business team does that — and they do so often, now — it creates shadow IT. 

Why is shadow IT so damaging? Well, the more shadow IT your company carries, the more risks you open it up to, on account of IT lacking adequate visibility into how these unvetted apps, capabilities and functionalities interact with the rest of your technology stack. 

Risks are not the only issue, however. Which department does the job of mitigating those risks fall? IT. This means shadow IT is not only a cause of vulnerability — imperiling the infrastructure that IT is responsible for — but also of frustration and inefficiency, actively pulling developers away from the kind of work they want to and should be focusing on. 

But shadow IT also leads to unintended challenges for business teams, which still end up relying on IT to provide timely support when technology issues arise. If IT is constantly contending with shadow IT — policing it the way gardeners have to police unruly weeds — they are less equipped to help business teams when they’re stuck. 

So here’s where we’re at now. Every day, shadow IT is further straining relations between business teams and IT. It’s also further hampering the capacity of our companies to operate efficiently, and further increasing the security risks we subject our companies to. 


The key to salving that rift, eliminating that inefficiency, and mitigating that risk: Killing shadow IT. 

The question, of course, is how? Much like the toxic relations between business teams and IT, shadow IT has long been written off as an operating cost, something like bad weather, that you simply hope to manage, rather than “fix.” 

Why is this? One reason is that killing shadow IT requires providing business and IT teams capabilities that have long contradicted each other: Allowing business teams the ability to move fast and design their own operational solutions while also ensuring IT maintains airtight governance and control over your company’s technology infrastructure. The technologies we have had at our disposal to this end either couldn’t be implemented fast enough, didn’t provide enough flexibility, or required too many technical resources. 

But that’s beginning to change. Thanks in particular to the recent rise of no-code technology, and in particular the adaptive platforms that can be used to erect an abstraction layer between business teams and IT, business leaders now have the capacity to provide both business teams and IT teams capabilities that render the need for shadow IT obsolete. 


The rise of no-code platforms 

No-code platforms can allow business teams to navigate and utilize APIs to orchestrate processes on their own in a business-friendly interface, for example. The most powerful also integrate with many different business systems, making it possible for business teams to extend the functionality of the tools they love to use and spend their time in. 

Enterprise-grade no-code platforms are also built to benefit IT. The best of them effectively sit above the technology stack, and while they lend access to that technology for business teams, they remain governed by IT. These no-code platforms are also extendable by IT and development teams, capable of ensuring that there are no limitations in terms of what actions or processes can be orchestrated. This means that business teams can use the platform to move fast and operate self-sufficiently without compromising the integrity or standardization of the code base, which is crucial to IT. 

To borrow a term all readers are likely familiar with, such a platform essentially turns business users into “citizen developers,” capable of advocating for and technologically supporting themselves. Yet it does so safely, in ways that IT is never blind to. 

No-code technology is of course still in its early days. But its potential for liberating all employees to operate more effectively and efficiently is immense. In many ways it resembles the potential that open source proved to have for developers, allowing for reuse of components that made writing software much faster, more scalable and with much better quality. 

This is also, in many ways, precisely what the enterprise has been missing: A bridge between IT and the business that addresses both the acrimony that defines that relationship and the attendant inefficiencies, costs and risks that stem from it, with shadow IT very much included. 

No longer do we need to simply accept those costs and risks, or attempt merely to manage them. We have the technology to eliminate them. 

Moving forward, company leaders should use that technology to do precisely that, and in the process deliver to business teams and IT what they reasonably want and need. 

Sagi Eliyahu - Tonkean CEO for Crunchbase

Sagi Eliyahu is the CEO and co-founder of Tonkean, a human-in-the-loop automation platform for business operations teams. Prior to Tonkean, Sagi held executive engineering roles at Jive Software. Sagi served for four years in Unit 8200, the Israeli Defense Force’s elite intelligence agency. His essays have appeared in MarkerFast CompanyForbesand other places around the internet.

  • Originally published February 12, 2021