There’s a reason so many people in business find personal devices like tablets and consumer-based cloud tools useful: they’re simple to deploy, easy to use and inexpensive. Most important, they help get the job done.

It’s no wonder that growing numbers of employees are bypassing the company IT department in favour of so-called ‘Shadow IT’.

Put simply, Shadow IT covers the increasing variety of ‘unofficial’ workplace tools employees are using to help them work more effectively. And there’s probably more of it going on in your organisation than you realise.

Do-it-yourself benefits

According to one recent survey, IT bosses guess their organisations are probably using a total of around 51 cloud services. In reality, the number for some large enterprises exceeds 730.

Another study last year found that professionals facing technical challenges at work turn first to the IT department only 40 per cent of the time. Others look for solutions online (23 per cent) or ask a non-IT co-worker (17 per cent).

Some cloud-based tools, such as Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Skype and Twitter, are already so familiar to consumers for personal collaboration that they seem like logical choices for professional collaboration, too.

Shadow IT is popular in business because it works. In fact, some companies are welcoming it as a way to drive innovation in the workplace. As one recent report noted, ‘Shadow IT isn’t the evil that many in the industry would have us believe’.

Bringing light to the shadows

So how should IT departments deal with Shadow IT? They can work with employees while also supporting policies to protect security, prevent unauthorised IT spend and ensure compliance.

The following strategies can help:

(1) Recognise that Shadow IT is impossible to eliminate. Whether it’s an employee sending a quick Facebook message via smartphone to a co-worker ahead of a business meeting, or a workplace team chatting about a project via Skype during lunch, unapproved tools and devices will always find a way into your business. Acknowledge that and move on.

(2) Make an effort to understand exactly what’s going on in your organisation. Talk with people in different departments about the tools they use and which ones they like the best or find most useful. Study your network traffic to see where people are going when they go online. And check with the finance department for records of technology purchases or subscriptions made by departments other than IT.

(3) Work to introduce some controls. Identify the tools that work best, then standardise – and secure – their use across the organisation. Make it clear to employees that the IT department is there to help them work effectively, not to stand in their way. And keep an open, two-way conversation going to make sure everyone understands the importance of using these tools safely and securely. This is especially important if you’re in a highly-regulated industry like financial services or pharmaceuticals, or work in legally sensitive areas.

Shadow IT is here to stay. With a little guidance from the IT department it can help move your business to another level – safely and cost efficiently.

The opinions expressed by the writers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Fuji Xerox Smart Work Innovation, or the management. Fuji Xerox Smart Work Innovation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writers.