Are we underestimating the risks of shadow IT?

Written by Nicola

5th June 2020

With the sudden move to remote working, forced upon us by Covid-19, most organisations have deployed tools to support their staff whilst working at home. Given the necessary speed of roll out and the lack of enablement and adoption support that resulted from this we are hearing many stories of frustrated users finding their own solutions via “shadow IT”. Concerns over shadow IT have become prevalent and it is more urgent than ever to react. Unauthorised apps are part of an ongoing problem for businesses that are expensive and dangerous. A recent study discovered that somewhere between 30% – 40% of IT spending in large enterprises goes to shadow IT. The Everest Group puts it closer to 50%. On top of the financial cost there is the very real security risk.

However, something less likely to be discussed is the risk to your employees. If you run a quick google search you’ll find thousands of products and companies who promise to help seek out the rogue programmes on your employees machines and this is great, but what about those masquerading as something else?

Commercial products like WhatsApp and Facebook have found a foothold in nearly every organization. If you run a search for one of our largest supermarket chains, you will find it has thousands of groups! How many WhatsApp group chats do you have with your colleagues, employees or manager? For many of us it has become the norm. A quick easy effective way to communicate, as we face todays challenges with our people spread far and wide working remotely. Most of these Facebook groups are private and WhatsApp boasts end to end encryption, so we assume that these spaces are safe, innocent and useful. What we don’t think about is that by using these mechanisms we are exposing our employees, our organisations and ourselves to unnecessary risks.

Employee wellbeing

The balance between work and personal life is important but when you extend this to the tools you use how do you achieve separation? Everyone loves the little blue ticks on WhatsApp – it’s the comms persons dream knowing who has read your message and when! Status indicators showing when you were last on-line. All great until you want to be online for your friends but not for your boss! The pressure of the unread message, the inherent need to reply no matter what day or time. All very real. Some regions have gone as far as to ban employers contacting their people out of hours – how could this apply with an untrackable, unmanaged system? We are forcing our people into an ‘always on’ culture and risking fatigue, burn out and breaches in law.

Employee safety and data privacy

Inside organisations people are typically recognized by employee ID, name or corporate email address – not usually by their personal phone number, email or social media account. To participate in a WhatsApp or Facebook group you are sharing this information with everyone inside that space – whether you want to or not. You will likely have no personal control over who is in that space and absolutely no control over what those people do with that data.  I am sure the risks are evident starting with a clear breach of privacy. There is no choice here the only alternative is to not participate and risk exclusion.

Also looking at employee safety, the inability for an organization or indeed an individual to retain messages and content from these platforms makes it almost impossible to appropriately manage allegations of bullying, harassment and other unfortunately typical HR issues. Leading to a failure to adequately protect our people.

The fact is that we could be missing the great ideas people discuss in these spaces, the intelligence and insight that comes from connecting our people – lost in a sea of anonymous spaces, the innovative ideas not captured or shared. Yet still we use them – why? Probably because we don’t realise there are alternatives. Alternatives that provide those communication and collaboration spaces and channels in a very similar but exponentially safer way. You may even already have them. If you value spaces where you can message individuals, teams and groups then Microsoft Teams, Webex Teams or Workplace by Facebook can be a perfect fit. Value the ease of quick group chats, calls and a great mobile experience then Workplace Chat, it is essentially Messenger made safe.

As we continue to navigate towards the new normal, collaboration and engagement continue to be critical to survive. Businesses can no longer ignore the risks of shadow IT and must take preventative steps against it. It is time to look to creating safe digital workplaces so you not only survive but thrive.

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