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| Ron Marquardt Why shadow IT is your best new source of innovation

Innovation drives competitive advantage. And technology drives innovation. But new tech is now coming into the business in entirely new ways, bringing faster business innovation—and greater security risks.

Innovating at the speed of…what, exactly?

Whether it’s astonishing new products, hyper-efficient business processes or competition-battering customer experiences, innovation is what marks out the winners from the losers. But innovations only stay innovative for a short time (today’s next-big-thing will quickly become tomorrow’s has-been), so businesses must innovate fast and innovate often.

2014 PwC survey found that global CEOs ranked product and service innovation as their top strategy for growth. They see that the ability to innovate quickly and consistently is perhaps the only remaining source of sustainable competitive advantage.

Imagination and creativity are essential, of course, but technology plays an increasingly important role in innovation—providing new capabilities, capturing insights from across the business, and connecting people to information and to each other.

But now, the way that technology enters the business is changing dramatically—and having a major impact on the pace and nature of innovation.

Remember the good old days?

Let’s say your business needed a new collaboration app. You’d put out an RFP and an IT committee would review various options, map the needs, make a shortlist, and then decide on what to implement. Then you’d configure it, test it, configure it some more, and hit it repeatedly until it integrated with your existing systems. Then roll it out, provision it for each user, and hope that people would actually use it.

For more and more technology categories, it’s just not like that anymore.

Now, when your business users decide they need a new cloud collaboration app, they just go ahead and implement it. No RFP. No long IT provisioning process.

They might decide to roll out an app that many of them are already using anyway. They might try out a few different apps and simply jettison any that don’t work out. But however the tech gets into the business, it’s the users who are taking control and bringing it on board themselves.

Bring Your Own Innovation

This is one of the lasting effects of the consumerization IT. BYOD was just the start—new technologies and applications are now entering (and transforming) the business in more ways than ever before.

This rapid provisioning of new tech leads to faster innovation. Because it’s driven by users, it creates better engagement and motivation, greater productivity and increased collaboration—essential building blocks for innovation.

But this user-driven approach also opens up the business to new risks, particularly from poorly secured cloud apps.

Out of the shadows

CIOs need to find the right balance between empowering people to innovate and protecting the business from security, performance and complexity risks.

The risks of ‘shadow IT’ are very real, but excessive controls on these new innovation drivers will only push them further underground, creating even bigger security risks.

It’s far better to embrace the fact that shadow IT actually presents an opportunity to accelerate innovation.

As Gartner’s Simon Mingay says, rather than crushing shadow IT underfoot, CIOs need to recognize its value to the organization and provide a platform that supports it—empowering people to get on with innovating, while keeping corporate networks and data secure.

Respect the upside, protect from the downside

So how can CIOs keep the business protected while giving users the autonomy they need to be truly innovative?

  • Look for ways to say “Yes”: Instead of just saying “No”, CIOs need to be open to most effective ways to get new tech into the business. This isn’t just rubber-stamping users’ decisions; it’s an opportunity to say, “Yes, but…” and help them avoid any potential dangers. Or even to say “Yes, and…” to point them in the direction of things they may have missed.
  • Educate users: CIOs need to acknowledge that the tech users are bringing in to the business has many –benefits—but they also need to teach people about the risks involved. Overly strict controls will push users back into the shadows, but education and clear guidelines can help build a culture of shared responsibility for IT security.
  • Protect your data: Many of the apps users are provisioning for themselves are geared around accessing and sharing data—and that presents a big risk to the business. When new apps can arrive at a moment’s notice, it’s vital to have protection at the data layer, with identity management, policy-based access, and full audit trails.
  • Create a platform, not a process: CIOs are ideally placed to drive innovation in their business, but don’t let processes get in the way of creativity. IDC found that the majority of CIOs believe making the innovation process too formal stifles creativity.

Time to take the lead

The best CIOs take the lead on innovation; in part by enabling the new, agile, user-driven ways of implementing the tech that supports and accelerates it.

How are you enabling IT in your organization?

 

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