What do global warming, international terrorism and rogue IT have in common? More than you might think. All three have the potential to cause serious damage, and all three are ticking time bombs that will go off if we ignore them. But despite concerted efforts to deal with the first two, nothing is being done to deal with the third.
If you are reading this article, you are likely both a perpetrator and victim of rogue IT. To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “If you shared a company document with a colleague using a publicly-available document sharing service, you might just be rogue IT.”
First, a definition: rogue IT is a grass roots movement through which business users requisition unapproved, usually consumer-grade technology for work purposes.
Ignoring Rogue IT Won't Make it Go Away
OK, so rogue IT is not be as serious as the prospect of global warming, but if you work in IT, your career is almost certainly being affected it — and probably not in a good way. Consider the following facts from a recent uSamp survey:
- 41 percent of workers have admitted to using an unsanctioned cloud service within the last six months.
- Almost 90 percent of these surreptitious document sharers did so knowing that it violated company policy.
- 27 percent of workers who used an unapproved cloud service reported a negative consequence of such use, ranging from lost business to law suits to financial damages.
New technology is partially to blame; specifically, sophisticated mobile devices that are more computers than telephones and a broad range of publicly available cloud services. When used together, these technologies produce a volatile brew for rogue IT "chemists." With these technologies, workers are free, for the first time, from the constraints of IT. Using a smartphone, any business user can share documents with colleagues, partners and customers directly through consumer document sync and sharing cloud services, and there is very little you can do to stop it.
As a consequence, most IT folks are taking their cues from the ostrich; sticking their heads in the sand and pretending the problem doesn’t exist. Good luck with that.
It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, because this phenomenon is massive and it’s only going to get bigger. How big? Consider the number of mobile phones being used for business today:
- According to Gartner, 1 billion smartphones were sold in 2013, over half the number of mobile phones.
- 70 percent of organizations already support "Bring Your Own" (BYO) programs for mobile devices, and only 10 percent say they never plan to offer BYO (Gartner).
- Over 60 percent of workers already use a personal mobile device for work (Gartner).
Next, consider how hard it is to share documents with colleagues with a smartphone using sanctioned applications:
- 75 percent of companies have six or more content repositories (Gartner), so even if you want to follow the rules it is not so simple to know how to share documents.
- Almost all BYO programs support only email, calendaring and contacts — no document sharing.
The result is that upstanding, law-abiding workers are turning to a life of "crime" in droves. Consider the following figures:
- 200 million people now use Dropbox, many for business. Dropbox is widely considered a security risk by organizations.
- Workers have access to approximately 30-40 publicly available document sync and sharing services (Forrester); most which fly under the radar in organizations.
The situation becomes increasingly chaotic with every new document shared via one of these cloud services. With the addition of each document, comes the difficulty of finding what you are looking for later on; to say nothing about the ability to contain data leakage and comply with document retention policies.
But, the implications are far broader. As workers increasingly turn to consumer solutions to fulfill their collaboration needs, the less influence IT has to maintain a professional, enterprise-grade information environment. The consequence? IT governance goes down the tubes as your influence in the organization wanes.
What Can You Do?
- Realize you have a problem. The shift to self-service IT is driving IT budgets to departments and forever changing the way IT functions. Realize that IT is taking on a more advisory role. Reach out to business units and offer expert assistance.
- Raise awareness. The problem is not one of (strictly) political control; it is one of being able to create a mobile enterprise, where workers have secure access to information anytime, anywhere. And part of creating that mobile enterprise is being able to account for sensitive information as well as find it when it’s needed. That’s where you come in, because business users reaching out to consumer cloud services won’t see the complete picture until it is too late.
- Offer alternatives that are acceptable to end users and also fulfill organizational requirements for security and governance. For example, if you are like 80 percent of organizations, you have already invested in SharePoint. Doesn’t it make sense to find a way to let mobile users share documents securely via SharePoint rather than create yet another document repository for mobile users?
- Educate. Most workers want to do the right thing — as long as it is as easy as their rogue alternative. Spread the word via newsletters, provision acceptable apps using mobile device management products or offer acceptable apps in your enterprise app store — if you have one.
- Expose the dangers of going rogue. Publicize rogue IT horror stories, and what can happen when employees take IT into their own hands (click here for some representative stories). A little awareness of the dangers will go a long way to garner cooperation.
- Advertise success stories. When people see the benefits of what they can gain by doing the right thing, they will play ball. For example, a construction company that was able to provide document access to contractors in the field, was able to improve projects because people could find project plans and blueprints quickly, without having to guess which ones were the most current versions.
At the end of the day, remember that the mobile enterprise is just in its infancy so there is still time to get back in the game. And being proactive will not only help your career, it will also preclude the need to wash all the sand off your head (from sticking your head in the sand).
So let 2014 be the "Year of the Tiger" and not the "Year of the Ostrich."
Title image by alphaspirit (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Read more of David's thoughts on how IT is shifting in The Changing Role of IT in a Technology World Full of Choice
About the Author
Author David Lavenda is a product strategy executive at harmon.ie, an innovative user experience for the mobile enterprise. He is a regular contributor at Fast Company. He also does academic research on information overload in organizations and he is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.
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