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Solving the Shadow IT Problem: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Now

Harris_SeanBy Sean Harris

Most IT organizations I speak to today admit they are concerned about the ever-increasing growth in the consumption of shadow IT services within the business; the ones that are not concerned I suspect are in denial. A common question is, “How do I compete with these services?” The answer I prefer is: “Build your own!”

What Would It Mean for My IT Organization to Truly Replace Shadow IT?

Totally displacing Shadow IT requires building an organization, infrastructure and services portfolio that fulfills the needs of the business as well as—or better than—external organizations can, at a similar or lower cost. In short, build your own in-house private cloud and IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) organization to run alongside your traditional IT organization and infrastructure.

Surely your own in-house IT organization should be able to provide services that are a better fit for your own business than an external vendor.

IT service providers often provide a one-size-fits-all service for a variety of businesses in different verticals: commercial, non-commercial and consumer. And in many cases, your business has to make compromises on security and governance that may not be in its best interests. By definition, in-house solutions will comply with security and governance regulations. Additionally, the business will have visibility into the solution, so the benefits are clear.

How Do I Build My Own Services to Compete With Shadow IT?

Answering the technical part of this question is easy. There are plenty of vendors out there offering their own technical solutions to help you build a private cloud. The challenge is creating the organizational structure, developing in-house skills, and implementing the processes required to run a true ITaaS organization. Most traditional IT organizations lack key skills and organizational components to do this, and IT organizations are not typically structured for this. For example:

  • To capture current and future common service requirements and convert these into service definitions, product management-type skills and organizational infrastructure are needed.
  • To promote the adoption of these services by the business, product marketing and sales-type functions are required.

These are not typically present in traditional IT organizations. Building this alongside an existing IT organization has three main benefits:

  • It is less disruptive to the traditional organization.
  • It removes the pain of trying to drive long-term incremental change.
  • It will deliver measurable results to the business quicker.

What If External IT Services Really Are Better?

It may be discovered after analyzing the true needs of the business that an external provider really can deliver a service that is a better fit for the business needs – and maybe even at a lower cost than the internal IT organization can offer. In this case, a “service broker” function within the IT organization can integrate this service into the ITaaS suite offered by IT to the business far more seamlessly than a traditional IT organization can. The decision should be based on business facts rather than assumptions or feelings.

How Do We Get Started?

As part of VMware’s Advisory Services and Operation Transformation Services team, I work with customers every day to map out the “Why, What and How” of building your own ITaaS organization to compete with Shadow IT services:

  • Why
    • Measurable business benefits of change
    • Business case for change
  • What
    • Technology change
    • Organizational change
    • People, skills and process change
  • How
    • Building a strategy and roadmap for the future
    • Implementing the organization, skills, people and process
    • Measuring success

In the end, customers will always choose the services that best meet their needs and cause them the least amount of pain, be it financial or operational. Working to become your business’ preferred service provider will likely take time and resources, but in the long run, it can mean the difference between a role as a strategic partner to the business or the eventual extinction of the IT department as an antiquated cost center.


Sean Harris is a Business Solutions Strategist in EMEA based out of the United Kingdom.