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Can Low-Code/No-Code Be the Answer to Shadow IT?

August 25, 2022 Digital Workplace
Anthony Macciola
By Anthony Macciola

What tech leader hasn't experienced rogue staff members adding unauthorized software tools to their desktop or system because they thought it was the best tool to use? In fact, despite IT and infosec protocols, 80% of workers admit to using software without getting IT approval, and 67% of teams say they introduced their own collaboration tools.

It’s no wonder that shadow IT — systems being deployed in the workplace without the CIO‘s knowledge — have become a major problem. Not only does it waste money on licensing, but it impacts productivity and increases security threats. The more unknown applications are used within a company, the higher the risk that outsiders can gain access to the entire corporate network and increase the potential for a cyber attack. Obviously, the IT department cannot protect itself from threats it doesn't know exist.

The challenge with shadow IT software is that it is usually only regulated (if at all) internally within the department being used. This means there is no uniform overview of which software and licenses are in circulation, which can inadvertently lead to compliance issues or even duplicate purchases. It’s estimated that approximately $34 billion in licensing waste is generated each year between the US and UK, while 8% of software licenses are only used once a month.

Digital Natives Driving Boom in Shadow IT?

To effectively combat shadow IT, you must first understand why it occurs. Most employees who use such applications without consulting the IT department usually have no bad intentions. In fact, 77% of surveyed professionals believe that their organization could gain an advantage from embracing shadow IT solutions.

One relevant trigger for its growth in recent years can be seen with the new generation of digital natives: those born into technology now entering the job market and bringing with them a high level of digital affinity.

When they encounter digitalization hurdles, they want to take things into their own hands. The result is they either download solutions to their problems or independently make their working processes more efficient. Examples include installing and configuring systems that perform business functions such as automation and data integration, or developing data repositories such as a spreadsheet used to manage customer or product data.

Additionally, we live in a world that is experiencing unforeseen challenges at faster paces than ever. Employees are often impatient to wait, and increasingly turning to faster, albeit uncertain, solutions. Recent research by my firm showed nearly half of employees surveyed blamed bad processes for making their job more challenging and a third blamed not having the right IT tools. It’s easy to see why they might steer off course to get the job done.

Related Article: Why Shadow IT Is Your Best Friend in the Workplace

Will No-Code/Low-Code Increase or Curb Shadow IT?

No-code/low-code (NCLC) technologies allow business analysts and citizen developers who don’t have extensive IT expertise to have sophisticated technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology at their fingertips without the need for costly application development, long IT implementations or training. According to Forrester, the year-over-year growth rate of the NCLC market will be 40% by the end of 2022. Researchers also estimate no-code tools will account for more than 65% of application development activity by 2024 and 85% of those who have already used it claim it adds value to their projects.

So with the growth and benefits of NCLC technologies putting more control into the hands of employees, will shadow IT explode even more?

As mentioned above, one of the main reasons for the growth in shadow IT is employees who are happy to tackle the digitization of their working methods themselves. Leaders should take the next step of providing them with the appropriate tools that allow them to do just that — without jeopardizing the security of the company. No-code/low-code platforms are particularly well suited for this purpose, as even non-technical users can easily program and compile applications or small apps using simple drag and drop tech.

NCLC platforms can function similarly to the building block principle. These types of platforms are well-suited for improving the automaton of tedious, time-consuming manual processes such as document processing. Employees can add AI skills that read and understand documents similar to how humans do that will increase their productivity. At the same time, the IT department has a precise overview at all times and can better monitor the stacks and adjust them when necessary.

The benefits of NCLC solutions for the workforce are obvious. However, if you want to avoid more shadow IT, they should only be implemented in coordination with the IT department and on the basis of internal company guidelines — and employees need to be warned from the outset. Roughly 21% of organizations do not have a policy around the use of new technology. Organizations must create and enforce IT and infosec policies. It will reduce the need for unauthorized programs and applications.

Related Article: Can Citizen Developers Fix Information Management?

Transparent Insight Into Structures Is the Key

Before implementing NCLC solutions, IT departments should first gain an overview of the current workflows of the company. Ask a few important questions: How are employees interacting with systems and processes? What applications do employees access outside the established IT structure? What requirements do they fulfill and for which processes do employees need them?

Based on a full process analysis and task mining of information, as well as through conversation with the employees themselves, the IT department can then make an informed decision about which capabilities colleagues need and which platforms are therefore best suited for the business function and company. Most importantly, the dangers of shadow IT and the implications for cybersecurity must be communicated to all employees.

The good news about the emergence of shadow IT is that it is an indication that employees want more digitization. However, in order to protect themselves and the company from the dangers and rising costs that come with it, leaders should no longer fear the fundamentals of decentralized IT, but provide their employees with the right tools to participate independently in the digitization of the company.

About the Author

Anthony Macciola is Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, a Digital Intelligence company, where he leads the company’s AI vision and strategy. He holds more than 45 patents for technologies in mobility, text analytics, image processing, and process automation, and advocates their use for changing the future of work, improving the customer experience, maintaining business continuity, and achieving process excellence.

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