The Fuel Source Behind the Explosion of Shadow IT

Olga Annenko digital transformation

Shadow IT background

Thanks to the cloud computing, the ever-growing number of cloud-based services and products and changes in pricing models (subscription-based and pay-per-use models), it became considerably easier to buy software, which meant it’s growing accessibility. This is sometimes called democratization of IT: Software applications are considerably easier and quicker to access than before.

You can actually argue that democratization of IT “stands behind” the second wave of consumerization of IT. During the first wave employees used to bring their own laptops, smartphones, other devices – after all, if it helps them do their job better and be more efficient, why not? But for quite a few last years we’ve been observing a shift from “Bring Your Own Device” to “Bring Your Own Application” type of attitude. And while the former was (usually) agreed on with IT departments, the latter… well, not so much. If, according to the report by Frost & Sullivan together with Stratecast published in 2013, more than 7 SaaS applications out of 20 were used without IT’s knowledge about them, Cisco revealed in one of its recent studies that, while IT departments assume that their companies use 51 cloud applications on average, the real number is 730.

Unbelievable as they might seem, these findings resonate with the results of another recent survey conducted by Logicalis, a UK-based IT solutions and managed services provider, which reveals that 90% of CIO worldwide have been made aware of being bypassed by line-of-business employees “at least sometimes”.

Of course one cannot consider any of these reports entirely conclusive: studies’ methodology may very well differ as well as sample groups. But even if figures are not entirely accurate, one thing is clear: If two years ago, Shadow IT made only a part of all applications used in a company, albeit a significant one, nowadays the number of applications procured bypassing IT exceeds by far the total number of applications sanctioned by IT.

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Four reasons behind the explosion of Shadow IT

Ok, so we can say that the core reason behind the phenomenon of Shadow IT is the rise of cloud-computing and SaaS. But why have employees so readily “jumped on this train”, even if it quite often involves “fare-dodging”?

After perusing numerous studies, I believe I can sum up four key reasons that push the Shadow IT movement. These might go separately, but most often they are closely interwoven with each other:


The “familiarity” reason fits into the concept of BYOA the most and certainly makes sense: Line-of-business employees, especially if we’re talking about the generation of millennials, use various cloud applications privately on a regular basis and are very well familiar with their interfaces and features. It’s only natural that they would “bring” an application from their private environment into the business one if they need its functionality on the job, rather than go on a hunt for (or use) something totally new and unknown. At least, not if they can avoid it.


This reason is closely connected to the consumers’ general perception and expectations of cloud applications. After getting a taste of such apps as Airbnb, Dropbox, Pocket or Spotify – the ones that are usually used for private purposes – consumers have come to expect that the things that help them manage their daily private routines are there, at the tips of their fingers. SaaS consumers have already got used to self-service and easy accessibility on any device, at any time and any place. And they prefer it this way. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they look for the same convenience at the workplace to enable a better way of working. After all, they already know that having this convenience is possible.


The “efficiency” reason has its roots in the same general expectations channeled from using SaaS applications, but takes a different angle on them. People have got used to the fact that cloud applications make their lives easier and better. Unconsciously transferring this experience to their workplaces, they expect that the software they use would help them do their job more efficiently, more quickly, more productively. So, if an internal email marketing tool cannot deliver the feature they really need (e.g. for scheduling emails or customizing mass mailings), they feel compelled to turning their eye to the offerings outside their company. And thanks to the number of SaaS applications growing at a geometric rate, they know that they will find what they are looking for.

In fact, the 2014 survey [PDF] commissioned by Avanade revealed that 71% of C-level executives and business unit leaders feel that bypassing IT departments, they can make decisions on what technology is necessary for their staff better and faster.


Last but not least, this seemingly insignificant reason can be a big decisive factor for switching to an non-approved cloud application, even more so if combined with any of the other reasons above. The latest generation cloud apps are beautiful, intuitive and easy-to-navigate. The user experience is well thought-out, it is easy to find your way around the app even if you’re seeing it for the first time. Unfortunately, enterprise systems fall woefully short of the mark, just as some first generation cloud applications do. A well-known cloud-based CRM system (not giving any names), for example, is certainly a very powerful and efficient application, but it’s also has a disastrous UX, and most salespeople find that it actually makes them do more work just because its interface is so confusing. This makes same salespeople best candidates for a shadow CRM.

Do you have any thoughts on this? If yes, please do share them with us. Or share your own reason if you are a Shadow IT user;-)

About the Author
Avatar für Olga Annenko

Olga Annenko


Olga Annenko is a tech enthusiast and marketing professional. She loves to write about data and application integration, API economy, cloud technology, and how all that can be combined to drive companies' digital transformation.

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