Shadow IT for collaboration: going rogue or just getting things done

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting the emerging trends and issues of information management, cloud-based file sharing, and collaboration.

I might draw the ire of the diehard collaboration supporters when I say this, but the truth is that there is no such thing as “Enterprise-Wide Collaboration;” no single method that can handle all the types of “work” that needs to get done by individual workers. Enterprise-wide collaboration is an oxymoron. You don’t collaborate with 100, 200, 1000 people; you have two, three maybe five potentially across multiple geographies and time zones. The current software categories are inadequate to encompass the needs of users.

One of the big buzz terms around IT these days is this notion of “Shadow IT,” which is another way of saying business users are going rogue. How this phenomenon of “going rogue” is driving the shifts we see in the information management landscape is the subject of today’s blog: the use of consumer products in the enterprise for the purpose of collaboration.

Whether the product falls into the Enterprise File Sharing and Sync (EFSS) space or is a freemium ECM product, there is a common driver for the existence of these products. Users acquired these tools be able to organize, share and monitor the creation of documents, spreadsheets and presentations. For most organizations, however, this is a constant head scratcher: “We already have X that can do document version control and is provided to all our employees—why don’t they use it?”

One product for all user file sharing and collaboration needs.

The answer is pretty simple; large information management systems (fileshare or ECM products) lack the simple features that users need to collaborate – and likely require IT to alter permissions or enable “mail from site” to collaborate.

Collaboration suggests people work together to do something that, as an individual, you could not do, or a group can do better/faster. If I have to submit a ticket, await a response, clarify, and then wait another day for the resolution,

I am not able to do whatever it is any faster. To boot, all of the security that we have surrounding the system will most likely break my version control when I make that one change from home over VPN and all my work will disappear into the abyss.

Collaboration is an organic activity born out of need, but generally lacks a definitive set of requirements. As such, traditional ECM has struggled in providing the appropriate environment to support collaboration; it is not a process, yet it is also not just a fileshare that everyone has access to from their desk. Users cannot always explain why the fileshare does not work for this project but is the best option for that project, they just know when it will work and when it won’t. 

The truth is that neither traditional EFSS nor Collaboration software really fills the need but if I, as the end user, manage the app myself, at least I can choose the right one for any given project, and tear it down afterwards. This simple solution to the pervasive misalignment between need and function is exactly why users go rogue in the first place, and is what IT needs to compete against if it is going to provide the solution.

Part of the allure of the consumer tools like Google Drive, Evernote, and Dropbox is that they don’t complicate the basic principles of collaboration: seeing the current version and communicating potential changes, and then seeing when and what was changed.  In other words, they are agile enough to support our Barely Repeatable Processes and doesn’t require us to perform extra steps.

It is that simple, it is not about Business Process Management (BPM), or Analytics or any of the tools that an organization needs as part of their larger platform—it just needs enough social and task management to build a document with a person across time zones. In the multi-app universe that we live in, end users are fine with separate apps for separate tasks, just not extra steps.

The elephant in the room is organizational risk; can the enterprise trust where end users are storing the information? End users don’t care about the organizational risk, they care about project completion. So if we know that end users need access to records and tactical information to complete their projects, we need to provide a workspace that can be used to track changes and make them visible, while simultaneously providing the tools to reduce enterprise risk, all at a price that makes sense.

For IT, and the wider organization, there is a real clear need to move away from freemium tools and bring the storage and organization of important information within the organization’s control. If you try to lock down user devices to prohibit access to certain tools, they will find others; if you implement more rigor and process around ECM, EFSS or EIM tools, productivity will suffer until users find a workaround; if you accept that the solution doesn’t need the word “Enterprise” in it, then you just might be able to find a User Information Management (UIM) system that works.

The product philosophy behind these tools is that it is neither a just a bucket to dump documents nor an unwieldy monolithic system. It meets a variety of user demands: single experience on multiple devices, “controlled sharing”, and allows users to manage their information sources, rather than concerning itself with complicating all things to do with content and file sharing.

The key from a technology perspective is how do enterprises enable UIM? What are the key requirements that IT must consider as part of the technology purchase on the behalf of users? In short what does “usability” mean when we do not know what users need? We will tackle that in the next blog.

Read the first blog in the series here.

Chris Wynder

Chris is the Product Marketing Manager for ApplicationXtender. He has a wealth of information management knowledge, particularly in highly regulated industries. He shares his deep belief in analysis and taxonomy as the basis of good information governance in his blogs.

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