Collaborat​ion

What Is Shadow IT? How IT Leaders Can Overcome the Top 5 Collaboration Challenges

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What exactly is Shadow IT? The term refers to people installing and using their own, non-company-sanctioned apps and software at work. They might do so for several reasons: perhaps they aren’t satisfied with their company-approved options, or they aren’t even aware there are such options. Maybe the company doesn’t actually have a sanctioned solution for a specific task. Or maybe the employee just likes the app they’re used to.

These all hold especially true for collaboration solutions. Consider the fact that nearly 38 percent of millennials said that they feel outdated collaboration processes hinder their company’s innovation1. Is it any wonder they and others who feel the same would resort to a BYOC (bring your own collaboration) approach to getting work done? As they do so, however, they introduce a host of challenges for IT leaders. Nor is Shadow IT the only issue facing IT leaders today when it comes to working together. But team players should not despair! Collaboration is still the best way to drive effectiveness and innovation at work, and there is a better way to do it. Here are the top five collaboration challenges, followed by a game plan to address them.

If you’d like to learn more about how teams and organizations can address collaboration overload and Shadow IT, read “IBM Connections brings focused collaboration to teams of any size.”

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1. Too much collaboration is counter-productive. Working together is great … up to a point. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) tells us that, “Over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more.”2 That collaboration further taxes our time by adding to the amount of information and data we have to slog through in order to find what we really need to get our work done.

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2. Your best collaborators are overwhelmed. And when they’re overwhelmed, they underperform. The top 3 percent to 5 percent of collaborators account for 20 percent to 35 percent of value-added collaborations, according to HBR. The problem with that is that not only do those high-performing individuals suffer from getting bombarded with requests and tasks, they “become institutional bottlenecks: Work doesn’t progress until they’ve weighed in.”

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3. BYOC actually hinders collaboration. Let’s say Gertrude and Sanjay have collaboration tools they prefer to the company-sanctioned solution. If Gertrude’s solution isn’t the same as Sanjay’s, then they’ve put up a barrier to instead of facilitated collaboration with one another. Extrapolate that across a department or organization and you’ve got a big, dysfunctional mess on your hands.

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4. Shadow IT is costly. When Gertrude and Sanjay install their own collaboration tools, they cost the company money in several ways. First, through loss of productivity by hindering collaboration. Second, through extra worker-hours as IT fields support requests for several different tools (even if just to respond, “we don’t support that tool – please remove it”). Third, there’s a good chance Gertrude and Sanjay paid for and expensed their tools, even though the company already paid for licenses for them for the sanctioned tool. The list goes on – you can probably think of some of your own.

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5. Shadow IT can compromise security. As big an issue as cost is, there’s an arguably bigger one: security. Say Gertrude is working on a doc in her favorite collaboration tool. If she wants to share the doc with Sanjay she has to download, convert it, work on it offline, then re-upload it. Any security measures her tool had in place are thrown out the window. That’s even if her solution had built-in safeguards. The extent of Shadow IT is so large now that IT departments can’t possibly check the security of all the rogue programs: A recent study determined that employees at a typical large enterprise run 15 to 22 times more non-authorized cloud applications than authorized ones3.

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What’s to be done?!

The problems of collaboration overload and Shadow IT aren’t going away anytime soon. However, VPs of IT now have a weapon that will allow them to lead their organizations in greatly alleviating the symptoms of both: an integrated collaboration platform. More than anything, employees want convenience. In a recent IDC survey respondents ranked, in order, “Alignment of process,” “Self-service capabilities on web or mobile” and “Seamless collaboration with other employees” as the top three factors in achieving a superior employee experience4.

Factors No. 1 and 3 are achievable only through a single platform that allows an individual to do everything he or she wants and needs to do without switching between apps. If an employee can stay in a single platform to co-create, co-edit and share files as well as email and chat with colleagues, schedule and hold meetings, search and more, all while transitioning seamlessly between mobile and laptop versions, they have no cause to use any other tool to get their work done.

IT leaders must look toward providing employees with solutions that provide this ability to collaborate, communicate and coordinate in an easy-to-use suite of integrated tools. This will spread the collaboration love to deliver relief to the top team players, ease the burden on IT workers, and keep files and info within the safe, secure confines a single platform.

If you’d like to learn more about how teams and organizations can address collaboration overload and Shadow IT, read “IBM Connections brings focused collaboration to teams of any size.”


1. “2013 Millennial Workplace Trends Survey,” Idea Paint, December 2013.
2. “Collaborative Overload,” Harvard Business Review, January-February 2016.
3. “CIOs vastly underestimate extent of shadow IT,” CIO.com, August 10, 2015.
4. “IDC US Experiences Survey,” February 2015.

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