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Shadow IT vs. IT Management: How to Protect Your Organization

Something is hiding in your tech stack. Something so persistent and strong that it could smash your security to smithereens. Something that’s technically part of your organization's tech stack, but your IT team has no control over what it does.

That something is Shadow IT and like a scientist accidentally exposed to gamma rays—it’s hulking out on your IT Management strategy. But fear not; if you feel your tech stack has outgrown its purple pants, we’ll learn how IT—through IT Management—can tame the beast.  

In this piece, we’ll uncover the brooding beast in your SaaS. We’ll also examine the opportunities of Shadow IT and the four steps of an IT Governance framework that prepares you for the reality of decentralized app adoption.

Understanding the Origin Story

Every character has a story, and Shadow IT is no exception.

As SaaS applications became more common, adoption of those apps became easier. In fact, according to Gartner, the cloud application market became larger than the non-cloud market for the first time as of 2020. But, as employees increasingly added cloud-based tooling in a decentralized way, it caused a rise in Shadow IT.

That rise threatens our IT Management strategies. From risk management, to asset management, to governance—all of these are threatened by unmonitored Shadow IT.

But that risk is not without opportunity if properly managed.  

The Threats and Opportunities of Shadow IT

Decentralized app adoption and Shadow IT isn’t going anywhere, so it’s time to come to terms with its risks and opportunities.

The risks are straightforward. Unsanctioned applications can cause:

  • Data and knowledge silos
  • Operational inefficiencies
  • Security risks from configuration errors
  • The additional wasted time during offboarding
  • Surprise costs and contract renewals
  • And more

However, despite these negatives, Shadow IT signals untapped innovation. If non-IT workers are researching and implementing their own technology, there’s passion behind their intentions.

So what if you could leverage that innovation and reduce the risks? What if you could control the beast of Shadow IT to help (instead of hinder) your organization?

Shadow IT can be the bedrock of innovation at your organization. But only if you have the proper structure in place.

IT Management: Creating the Structure for Success

So what can IT do? If decentralized app adoption is here to stay, how can we protect our organizations and use that innovative spirit for good?

This is where IT Governance (in this new decentralized paradigm) is critical.

Building The Next Generation of IT Governance

IT Governance is too commonly associated with the word “no.”

But, the IT leaders of the future will develop IT Governance frameworks that account for the innovation represented by Shadow IT.

Like our green giant, the presence of gamma rays simply means that experimentation is happening. IT Governance is not about demolishing the lab; it’s about making it safer.

A robust IT Governance framework includes four integral steps:

4 Steps of IT Governance Framework Built For Shadow IT

1. Understand how your organization uses technology


2. Prioritizing the business objectives of your organization and how technology can help


3. Design and implement processes and systems to achieve greater business efficiency and reduce risk


4. Communicate and educate stakeholders on how their innovation affects the organization


What has led to the prominence of Shadow IT at your organization? The simple answer is, of course, to get more done. However, the better question revolves around how they’re using that technology.

To know that, we need visibility into what applications are adopted and how they are used.

With visibility, we can identify trends such as:

  • What are the adoption rates for different Shadow IT apps?
  • Do these apps’ functionality overlap with sanctioned apps? (indicating sanctioned app might be insufficient)
  • Do these apps fill a gap in your tech stack?
  • Are users of these apps within the same department, or are they scattered?

To get this level of visibility, you’ll probably need a system or tool to help.

Consider tools like a SaaS Management Platform (SMP) that provide real-time discovery and shine a light on Shadow IT. An effective SMP should constantly map your applications, old and new, sanctioned and unsanctioned—in real-time.

Once you’ve got a grip on how much Shadow IT exists, there are some easy steps you can take to curb it.

Every new application downloaded is an attempt to accomplish a business objective. Therefore, to build an effective IT Governance framework, IT must understand how technology contributes to your organization’s business objectives.

That sounds a lot more complicated than it is, but IT should focus on answering the following:

  • Why is one application utilized vs. another of similar functions?
  • How often is an application utilized?
  • Are there apps with declining usage? Why?
  • Are there applications that are abandoned? Why?

While you could start sending out surveys (I mean who doesn’t love surveys on a busy Monday?), there are other—more sustainable methods.

For example, The best SMPs on the market provide IT usage data on an app by app, user by user, and license by license basis. Based on that data, you can draw a clear picture of how often (if at all) an application is working towards your organization’s business objectives.

From there, consider performing consistent application rationalization to continuously optimize your organization’s tech stack.

Data and visibility are good, but at some point—you have to act on what you’ve learned. That’s the key step in avoiding innovation evolving into risk.

For example, it’s easier to not stress Shadow IT if you know your IT team has the necessary processes to discover new apps as they are adopted. It’s a bonus when those actions are automated to save IT time and frustration.

That’s another area where a SaaS Management Platform excels past manual methods of SaaS Management (such as spreadsheets). All actions should make the lives of your IT team easier, not more difficult. The goal in reducing Shadow IT is to stress less, not more, after all.

The Torii Platform, for example, enables fully-customizable automated workflows. This evolves the data unearthed about your SaaS applications into a fabric that can weave into automated processes that work best for your organization. Whether that’s something as simple as automated onboarding and offboarding, all the way to deeply specific use-cases that are educated by the insights you’ve gained through Discovery.

With this functionality, you can make your IT Governance policy easier for employees to follow and not stifle innovation in the process.

Similar to another superteam that works alongside a big, green monster, your IT team needs to work cross-functionally to succeed.

That means communicating and educating stakeholders across the organization on why you chose to make certain policies and standards.

Explain why your policies have changed and how your decisions align with business objectives. Appreciate and collaborate with power users, even if they were formerly in the shadows, to consolidate your application catalog.

It’s, of course, helpful when your IT Governance strategy is non-invasive. For example, discovery shouldn’t feel like “big brother,” and you should transparently communicate with privacy-concerned employees what level of information a SaaS Management Platform is gathering.

Making clear to stakeholders how much exploration in software is allowed will enable them to attempt it more often within the safety of the bumpers you’ve provided—and possibly inspire more in the process.

Build a Better IT Management Strategy & Tame Shadow IT

Taming the big, green monster that is Shadow IT can look scary, but with greater visibility and action, it can evolve into an incredible opportunity. Informed by reliable insights, modern IT Governance strategies can enable innovation, while still limiting risk.

That includes developing a genuine process for SaaS Management. The science of SaaS Management hinges directly on your visibility into your organization’s SaaS stack. You need to have a full understanding of the applications in use, how often they’re used, and why. If you’re struggling to get started, we’ve written an easy guide to get you started.

Get your demo today

Now you can control, manage, and save money on the SaaS being used by your company. Let us show you what Torii can do for you.