Shrinking the Shadow IT Problem

From my experience, when it comes to shadow IT, there are many facets at play both in building cloud strategies, as well as regaining control after coming into organizations where shadow IT had been prevalent.

When looking at common examples of shadow IT and who the usual suspects using it are, the marketing department has a tendency to be at the top of the list. Examples range from the hosting of the corporate website to online marketing tools or survey and other technology platforms for supporting the business. Business Intelligence is another good example of where a lot of CMO dollars are spent bypassing the CIO and heading straight into SaaS and another shadow IT technologies.

There can be many drivers, but a common one is speed to market. Often CIOs are focusing on core product and platforms that support revenue and other critical business functions. But as CMOs transform operations towards digital marketing strategies the demand for technology outside the organization increases. In a fast-paced market, when these needs cannot be met because they are in conflict with other business priorities, a natural reaction is to look past the internal IT department and find their own solutions. On the flip side, this could be a planned outcome under the same situation. Due to the focus and priority, it may not make sense for the internal IT department to focus on these technologies, and it may be more deemed more appropriate to outsource to avoid distractions.

Now enter the CISO. As fun and exciting as shadow IT can be for the CMO or heads of sales leadership, there are times when the CISO may come in, albeit after the fact, and have a different viewpoint. For example, the marketing department may want to take sensitive customer data and work within a shadow IT manner on data that may be risky. Privacy laws and how the third party IT service provider is trusted all become factors. As a prior CISO, I would often tell my business upon learning they were using shadow IT for critical data that they may be able to outsource the IT side, but the risk remains.

A good illustration of a breakdown can be seen in situations where shadow IT led to a third party that had a breach. In the media, the breach is rarely headlined with the third party. It’s the familiar named Fortune 500 company that you will see in the headlines. In running third party risk management programs, another breakdown I would see was an evolution of the initial agreement in comparison to the current relationship. Contracts make for good baseline establishment of operating guidelines to help mitigate risks with third party shadow IT partnerships. Over time, though, relationships shift. New business opportunities evolve and if they are good, they win new opportunities. I have experienced situations where contracts reflected security terms and conditions as well as other business terms that had little to do with how the business was interacting. The scope of the IT services changed drastically.

What can be done? CISOs need to partner with CIOs as equally as they do CFOs. The words “follow the money” apply when it comes to understanding and discovery of how big the Shadow IT problem may be in an organization. From there, ensure that you work with the legal department and know that anything that smells like IT related services should pass the CISO desk. This ensures new and existing relationships have the right level of security protections and requirements to balance with the internal security postures of your organization. Often, the third party organization is cheaper than internal IT because they may not have to follow all the same policies that increase costs.

Just ensure those are not the security policies!