This is why “Shadow IT” happens

One of my friends, let’s call him Rich, works for one of the largest school districts in the U.S. as a technology coordinator.  Rich is the business end between the classroom and the prodigious IT resources a top-10 school district has on offer.  Rich is as a “nuts and bolts” kind of guy, not a woo-woo peddling “let’s hand everyone a tablet and hope for the best” sort of person by any stretch.  This is probably why we have been friends for 30 years. He doesn’t do the hype cycle.

His ask of IT is simple: help automate repetitive tasks, data collection and knowledge sharing.  He’ll show IT which tasks and what data but he is repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to help his teachers by an IT shop that has predetermined what’s “good for them”.  Rich has an Infopath document template that he wants to use to replace paper forms and standardize student development planning across the district.  All he needs is a file share location to place the document where teachers can read and write data freely, from any location on the district network.  The trouble is, this sounds like a database to IT and they have decided only FileMaker is suitable to the task. Never mind that the development team (Rich) knows what tools the teachers are capable of using on a mass scale (MS Office Suite, please): IT says FileMaker or nothing.

So Rich asked me for some advice on how to re-engage IT before he simply gives up.  He already has a Dropbox account and ready access to other Cloud storage services that could meet his needs with the swipe of a credit card…but that would be insane when his IT department already has a file share.  IT just won’t allow him to put his files there.  Irony, anyone?

Here’s my response:


I think you need to explain your case to the right person in IT and ask a few specific questions.  The use case is simple: you have a document template in MSWord/Infopath that you want to share globally and allow teachers to update with their own evaluation/plan data.  In the future you will have more of these document templates as they are teaching aides and you want the instructors to follow a consistent methodology to save time, money and headaches.  You know of several different ways to do this today but for various reasons existing approaches are non-starters:

1.)    Your eRoom implementation is not designed to work this way and will not currently allow for two-way updates.

2.)    Existing global file shares are extremely difficult to navigate through the deep hierarchy, particularly for teachers, and they are unable to access a universally available “share” or mount point

3.)    All file shares still come with the firewall penalty, where each floor of a building and each building in turn are held as separate security zones.

5.)    Ideally, we want to provide access from anywhere, not just from within the district network (laptops, pads and handhelds on WiFi or cellular networks, for example).

In the future you will have an instructional resource portal (HTTP) with links to the tools you develop; it’s a one-stop shop for their resources.  This is coming, so questions I would ask include:

  • Is there an existing knowledge management system we can leverage for this?
  • A fully developed Documentum solution could work, so is there a DCTM development team in the district you could approach?
  • Is there a simpler globally available file system to use?
  • How does a teacher navigate the district knowledge/file repositories effectively?  (you may already know this)  Is there a cheat sheet you can review that might point you to an existing resource to leverage?
  • Does IT have a cloud solution in place so you can spin up a development environment to work on this using their constraints?

I would assiduously avoid having a conversation with the help desk.  Setup an in-person meeting with somebody from IT in a management role, preferably on a development team or in service engineering.  Get a whiteboard.  The goal of the meeting is not to find out “is this possible” but to communicate to IT that “This is what the business is going to do” and to get a firm answer on “How will IT support me?”  You have to go in presuming IT is going to help and that what you are going to do is not just possible but long overdue (it is, on both counts).  Sure, you might have a project budget to share but that’s just details.  You have to go through IT first and get them to say “no, we are not going to help you”, preferably in writing.  Ideally, they will tell you they can help.


This is not some edge case or unusual situation: this is a standard example of what goes on in the real world enterprise every day.  A simple solution that will save literally millions of man-hours per year, support the core mission of the schools and cost almost zero to implement is thwarted by firewall rules and software requirements that have no connection to business needs.  Rich will spend weeks wrangling with IT simply because while he could mobilize and implement his ideas through a cloud storage provider like Terremark or DropBox, IT could shut it down and ruin months of work with a word and a firewall rule change.

But then, Rich plays by the rules.  He could develop the solution independently, implement a bunch of InfoPath document templates in secret through DropBox and just not tell anyone in IT.  He has direct access to their tens of thousands of teachers, IT does not.  Rich would prefer IT reconsider and offer him the simplicity of solution he is after: either a CIFS/NFS file share or private Cloud (Object) storage space to park his content.

Are your users/customers as dedicated to playing by the rules as Rich?  Probably not.  And even Rich has his limits.  I hope my guidance helps his meeting with IT but I am not optimistic.  Based on the lack of any real service approach from that department (I’ve seen their internal portals) Rich will be better served banging his head on a wall and then just swiping the credit card for a Cloud storage provider.

The stupidest thing about this whole story is who really loses in the end: the students.  That doesn’t directly affect IT, though, so IT has that going for them.

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One Response to This is why “Shadow IT” happens

  1. Peter Kraatz says:

    If you’re visiting from EMC InFocus, welcome. These longer Friday posts are more fun for me because I get to stretch out a bit. We will work on the commenting system to make it easier. Until then, I get the feedback from both sites and thanks for your commentary.

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