Overcoming the Challenges of Shadow IT
This article was originally published on ITBriefcase.net
Every IT manager has seen it happen before: your sales team (or your product team, or your finance team) has an issue, and before they bring it to you and your highly-trained IT developers and project managers — asking them to tackle the problem with original or adapted technology — they circumvent IT and go straight to another source, often seeking and finding an external solution to the company’s challenge themselves.
They sign up, they pay, and off they go using this external technology. All the while, your IT department has no idea what’s going on — or knows, but it’s far too late to influence the decision or convince anyone to allow you to tackle the problem another way.
This issue has a name: it’s called Shadow IT. And the fact that it’s happening more and more often today makes sense.
Shadow IT (i.e. IT projects that are managed outside of, and without the knowledge of, your IT department) is a natural reaction to the time required to build meaningful and robust applications in-house. And it’s a natural response for a team which is working quickly to fulfil multiple needs across many fronts on an ongoing basis and under deadline.
Unfortunately, for growing companies (like Jobsity: we recently hit 300 teammates!), it’s a problem that can become more and more problematic with time.
On my team, we saw this recently with our sales department. Jobsity is a fast-growing nearshore staff augmentation firm, and our sales operation just expanded across Latin America into Brazil. We move fast, and we’re growing at a steady clip. Because of this, as our sales apparatus picked up speed and began to grow at a faster rate, team leaders came to realize that they needed a more robust and powerful CRM solution.
The issue? They felt they needed it fast. So, before they could ask my team for input or time, they opted to go with Hubspot.
Hubspot is a strong piece of technology, and the solution has every promise of working for Jobsity and for our sales team.
This isn’t the problem.
The problem is that when the sales team decided to go with Hubspot, and not confer with IT to build an integrated or in-house solution, they risked sidelining the sales operations into what is called a data silo. A data silo is when a collection of data is held by one group, or inside one application or program, which is not easily or fully accessible to other groups within the same organization.
And for a distributed workforce as Jobsity is — spread across many countries and currently supporting companies all across North America — this phenomenon is particularly risky.
What is the risk? Well, if sales is using Hubspot, but recruitment is using, say, Greenhouse, these two sets of data will exist in separate silos, and because of this distribution and lack of access, they won’t talk to each other or interact. Consequently, Jobsity could end up missing out on crucial collaborations, important conversations, or other opportunities for increased external growth or impact because the two sets of data never interact or integrate.
Another risk is that departments in companies could sign up for a solution that may give them the functionality they need, but in an insecure way. Without the expertise held by IT, they may not have the skills necessary to assess if a particular solution is really compliant in terms of security. I have seen companies suffering client data leaks for this reason.
Luckily, there are some solutions that we can apply to alleviate these risks:
1.- Choose an application to unify your shared data and orchestrate different services
In our case, we created a core application for our business called JTalent to define a central location for our clients’ and workers’ (candidates and employees) shared data and keep it in sync with all our third party services. This is important because it allows us to have a single source of truth for the information we consider critical for our daily business operations, information that all departments use to provide a better, and more work-aligned, customer experience.
JTalent has also allowed us to have a framework to develop several critical functions for our business, while at the same time giving us the tools to connect (using Rest APIs or GraphQL) and manage other tools that we don’t consider strategic to develop internally.
Which takes me to point #2…
2.- To build or to hire
Here at Jobsity, we encourage our department heads to tell us about their scalability and process problems on a bi-weekly basis. Together, we use this time to have very in depth discussions to see if it’s strategic to build a certain piece of software into our core application. Budget, timing, capacity and strategy are analyzed before we provide a recommendation.
Sometimes it will make sense for your company’s IT team to build its own solutions to the issues you’re facing. (For example, at Jobsity, we recently built an app to help our clients manage their remote teams.) But at other times this won’t make sense (like with Hubspot; building an entirely new CRM platform wouldn’t be cost effective for our organization).
If we decide to build a particular set of features into our core application — amazing. We have total control (security included) over the functionality and the data produced. But if we decide to hire a third party service, well, then let’s move to point # 3…
3.- Establish a plan with different departments to hire third party software
I recommend you work together with all company departments to establish protocols to analyze third party vendors in terms of security, scalability, flexibility, customer support, time on the market, compliance and the most important of all: opportunities for integration using APIs.
Instead of fighting third party apps, establish some rationality and embrace the best applications in your own internal ecosystem.
4.- Data engineering
In point #1, I talked about creating a single source of truth for all of our critical shared data. But that said, there is tons of information we don’t unify from the different third party apps we use, and this data remains in each closed silo. This information is valuable individually, but it also has the potential to be combined to provide a complete “big picture” of our business.
Today, there’s a trend in companies to take all this siloed data from different departments and third party apps and to put it all back together using company-controlled data warehouses or data lakes provided by the big cloud providers (ex. AWS Redshift) or more specialized services (like SnowFlake).
In our case, we are using ETL pipelines and GCP BigQuery to store our data in a more comprehensive way for later analysis with a BI tool like Qlik. It is amazing the number of correlations, patterns and even prediction models you can discover when you combine all your data. It really provides powerful potential for company growth.
Whether it means connecting Hubspot to Salesforce to an internal App, or connecting data silos from sales to product to marketing, finding enterprise integration solutions that make sense for your organization can make the difference between growing efficiently and productively, or growing in painful and inefficient ways.
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