How shadow IT should shape your cloud computing strategy

By: Brian Gracely


As public cloud computing has continued to grow in size and breadth of applications, often outside the control of IT organizations, the amplitude of frustration around so-called “Shadow IT” has continued to rise. While IT has often tried to prevent Shadow IT from occurring within the business, out of concerns about loss of compliance or data, it might make sense to begin looking at some Shadow IT trends as a roadmap for how IT needs to deliver services in the future.

On one hand, not everything running outside a corporate data center should be considered Shadow IT. In many cases, SaaS applications are the evolution of business applications being less differentiated; hence they make more economic sense to be consumed without all the associated operational and data center costs. On the other hand, the growth of IaaS and PaaS services show that there are billions of dollars of inefficiency happening within IT organizations that are creating high levels of frustration for developers and end-users. While many organizations might feel like cloud computing is an “either or” choice, the reality is that most companies would benefit from a hybrid approach to deploying new applications into the cloud.

While it might be easy for IT organizations to get frustrated at the public cloud and Shadow IT, here are four areas they should consider emulating as focus on delivering better services to their businesses.

Focus on productivity and simplicity

The most common reason that people use public cloud services (SaaS, PaaS or IaaS) is the lack of friction between needing technology and being productive. While public cloud services may be more expensive in some use-cases, developers and end-users are able to mentally determine the cost of their time and make decisions that are focused on accomplishing their goals. IT organizations should be studying these applications and determine how they are able to remove the friction for achieving success and try to emulate that in the applications and services they deliver directly to their users. This may require the IT organization to bring in User-Experience expertise that is not currently present within the current staff.

Expect self-service

As technology becomes commonplace in every aspect of our lives, end-users are becoming more and more sophisticated in their understanding of how to use the technology to solve their problems. The days of IT being the centralized source of all technology knowledge within an organization are gone. End-users simply want self-service access to the tools or applications that help them get their jobs done. Public cloud gives that to them today. IT organizations need to understand that giving up some of this control is the natural evolution of supporting a more tech-savvy workforce.

Experimentation is valuable

As the pace of change within business, technology and society increases, the ability for companies to forecast the future becoming increasingly difficult. For this reason, companies need the ability to create experiments within the marketplace to measure feedback and understand how various options will impact buying decisions. In the consumer goods world, this might have meant that a new product is only released in a few test markets. In the world of digital products, these options and changes could happen many times a day (e.g. which front-page product image to customers seem to respond to better?). IT organizations need to put the frameworks, tools and processes in place to allow experimentation and rapid, automated responses from the data within those experimentations.

Pricing is complicated – maybe pricing is less important

Far too often, IT organizations only focus on the cost of a public cloud service, because they have been conditioned to primarily focus on cost-reduction for the majority of IT purchases. For CAPEX purchases, the pricing models are fairly well understood. They extend over 3-7yr periods and ROI models align to stable business patterns. But public cloud services give many new choices (on-demand, spot pricing, usage-reduced pricing, 1yr fixed pricing, etc.). While these can be confusing, they also offer new flexibilities that didn’t exist in the past. Flexibilities that may better align to short-term projects, project with loosely defined goals or just experiments. IT organizations need to have conversations with their users about their business goals and determine if internal pricing-complexity concerns are becoming too much of a burden to accomplishing those goals. Adopting more flexible pricing options might be the key to getting those new business projects started.

Each of these areas offer an opportunity for IT organizations to step back and re-evaluate how they deliver services to their business, as well as how they communicate with business users. Public cloud has reshaped the technology experience for many end-users, and it offers IT organizations some great insight into how to be a better partner in helping to achieve business goals.

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About The Author

Brian Gracely

Founder of Cloudcast Media and co-host of The Cloudcast, Lead Cloud Analyst for Wikibon

Brian Gracely is the founder of Cloudcast Media and co-host of The Cloudcast @thecloudcastnet) podcast. He has been recognized a Top 100 Cloud Influencer by several publications. He has previously held leadership positions at Cisco, NetApp, EMC, and Virtustream. He holds BA / MBA from Wake Forest University.