I often see articles and hear customers talking about “shadow IT.” These conversations usually come in two flavors (sometimes both): bemoaning its existence, and figuring out ways to “cope” with it. I think that’s the wrong approach. There’s clearly something compelling, even necessary, about shadow IT if it’s such a widespread problem.
To get to the root of the issue, let’s take a look at the problem from the eyes of a business owner, specifically one who needs to launch a mobile app and do it quickly. If you’re this person, your thinking probably goes something like this:
You could ask your IT department to provision you some infrastructure or APIs and wait for ages as they sort out security, scalability, and access control concerns before you can even get started prototyping with real data.
Or you could configure some (third party) cloud infrastructure and go, taking your first development steps in hours instead of months.
You could accept that your app will be handicapped by slow load times because of legacy infrastructure, or resign to waiting around for the next, mobile-enabled generation of your backend systems to be enterprise-ready, and then wait some more as your IT organization rolls it out (at which point it will be out of date already).
Or you could configure some cloud infrastructure and go, knowing that you’ll get sub-second performance and that the technology will change at the speed of mobile innovation.
You could force your young mobile developers to spend cycles learning and understanding proprietary, arcane languages in order to connect your mobile app to critical systems of record, and probably end up with a less-than-stellar result because they don’t care about and don’t want to learn SQL Server.
Or you could configure some cloud infrastructure and go, arming your developers with the tools they want to use, allowing them to use the skills they already have, and guaranteeing a better outcome as a result.
You could give up on your offline capability requirement, because the legacy auth system you’re forced to use was built for the web world when connectivity was a given, and can’t handle offline use cases.
Or you could configure some cloud infrastructure and go, free to use modern standards like OAuth 2.0 that allow you to grant access for a specified amount of time even in the absence of a connection.
You could risk a heart attack during your app’s launch, knowing that barring the unlikely event you guessed exactly right, you’ll either suffer performance problems or be stuck with a ton of expensive hardware you don’t need.
Or you could configure some cloud infrastructure and go, secure in the knowledge that it can instantly scale up or down as needed.
If we’re thinking like an IT organization, it’s easy to write off shadow IT as 100% negative. But given the decisions faced above, doesn’t it make at least a little sense?
That’s not to say allowing this approach is the right way for an enterprise to solve the mobility challenge — far from it. It does, however, highlight exactly what enterprise IT needs to do in order to rein in business units and prevent a dangerously fragmented IT landscape. Namely, IT needs to:
- Give mobile developers self-service, instantaneous access to enterprise systems via service catalogs
- Provide abstraction for data access so that mobile developers don’t need to have backend system knowledge
- Enable mobile developers to use whatever tools are most appropriate for the project and avoid lock-in to specific vendors and toolsets across the organization
- Create a cloud caching layer that provides sub-second data access and offline capability to those systems that can’t provide it as-is
- Ensure that the backend can scale for and support mobile use cases, such as massive adoption and rapid changes in backend demands
- Extend access to on-premise systems in a manner that is secure and compliant with business requirements
A common theme across all of these requirements is that IT needs to do them right now. The demand for mobility is here and it’s only accelerating. Waiting for vendors to release new, mobile-first versions of legacy systems, and going through the lengthy process of procuring, vetting, and rolling out those new versions, will leave organizations in the dust as competitors out-pace and out-innovate them.
Fortunately, there is a new breed of software designed to address these exact challenges. Regardless of the name – Forrester calls it “Mobile Infrastructure Services,” Gartner chose “Mobile Application Services Platform,” we at Kinvey use “mobile Backend as a Service” – all IT organizations should be evaluating mobile backend platforms to see if their business can gain the benefits needed for a successful mobility push. By enabling the requirements above, and by doing it quickly, enterprise IT can ensure that business units can innovate rapidly while IT maintains control over important enterprise systems.
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