Shadow IT and other cloud excuses

Todd Lyle, president of Duncan LLC, argues that a new wave of leadership is needed to take advantage of emerging technology and services.

Cloud computing has profoundly changed technology since it has become widespread over the past several years. The cloud has also changed the way people work, not just in the IT realm, but in all aspects of business to include the soft side of technology, the human element. The cloud has brought on some unforeseen hard choices: unacknowledged tug-of-war between management, employees, and tactical cloud solutions, shared services and change.

While we are beginning to see policy trickle from inside the beltway, it does not include guidance or specific directives otherwise known as blame lines. Moreover, due to a privileged air or simple lack of hands on experience, our senior leaders are not setting the example they need to from a purchasing, compliance or cultural perspective. Most of these technological faux pas occur because in practicality, technology is a second language to most senior leaders.

Todd Lyle is the president of Duncan LLC and author of the Grounding the Cloud Series.
Todd Lyle is the president of Duncan LLC and author of the Grounding the Cloud Series.

Whether it is allowing the acquisition of legacy systems, using personal technology in an insecure manner, or merely scoffing at the unknown, uneducated behavior at the helm is placing middle America, those with daily responsibilities, in a no-win situation. For managers, balancing the human element for goal attainment is a chronic wrestling match between limited resources and a wide range of abilities, expectations and personalities. With the rapidly changing technology landscape and managers left directionless with uneasy personnel, it is impossible to establish a new culture.

In an age of bring your own device (BYOD) to work, those in charge must take charge. They must balance their employees’ use of self-selected technology and/or their self-deployment of commercially available cloud services with senior managements’ lack of direction. Unfortunately in many large entities those with initiative are viewed as rogue “shadow IT” users who detract from the mission, not as innovative, clever individuals who optimize off-the-shelf solutions to soldier on.

Often the strident boss looks to rein in his employees because he feels restrained by his IT team’s lack of clarity or responsiveness. If it is your thinking that you need to attempt to control by enforcing outmoded procedures or even enacting new ones, you are missing out on great possibilities. Restrictive policies or worse, those that are overly vague, frustrate the creative mind, affect morale, productivity and mission readiness.

On the flip side the progressive leader demonstrates confidence in his staff, recognizing that often times he is the least specialized person in the room. He embraces his team’s talents and encourages others to make sound business recommendations. Incidentally, are you leading your IT personnel or service provider into this new era or is it the other way around?

With an onslaught of user friendly cyber-marketplaces and their almost instant access to software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and other cyber solutions, cloud computing and the resultant shared services capabilities are here to stay. If you stop individuals from taking advantage of an open market you are stifling progress. If you are in government, you are cheating the taxpayer.

More acutely, and for the bottom-line, you may be creating a de facto black market where you end up with multiple meters running and paying for redundant processes that a transparent shared services model would eliminate. Wouldn’t it be better to have your cloud services organized and collectively negotiated than face costly obfuscation? Open your mind and trust that your people are working for the common good. If you have a weak or untrustworthy team, it may be time to rethink your position.

In today’s all-access world, security and cost containment policies are necessary ingredients to ensure longevity both personally and organizationally. Yet, as discussed earlier, policies should not be Band-Aids used to patch over poor leadership, management insecurities and/or a stale organizational culture.

No doubt it can be nerve wracking to have so much going on in your 360-degree sphere of responsibilities. However, continuing to cede to traditional IT enigmas with folks who coyly withhold their knowledge is a sinking ship. Progressive employees are sidestepping tradition with an expense account and the initiative of Alphabet, AWS, Microsoft and Rackspace, to name a few.

For the older generations, it is no doubt worrisome that what we know and hold as unique and valuable will soon be exposed as anachronistic. Whether you are an insecure manager or a controlling IT person, remember that with today’s exposure no one can rest on their past. It is human nature to resist change, but it is essential that you retool now.

Managers must facilitate their employees’ freedom to excel while navigating old school processes and procedures. While this challenge of encouraging and coordinating is expected from the C-suite it is virtually impossible when senior stakeholders waffle consciously or subconsciously.

Need more convincing that shared services work and that the cloud they run on is safe? Check out USDA and its Food and Nutrition Service grant submission and maintenance program. Since May 2015 and through their MacGyver-style innovation, a financially-based back office system has been deployed that keeps underprivileged children and single mothers fed while allowing the bean counters to track a chain of custody and audit in real time. FEMA, check out their lead.

Balance your risk tolerance and fear of the unknown with the prospect of a new set of tools that would set you and your team free to attain your primary goal. Communicate and coordinate obvious parallel activities with your cross-agency or department level peers and speak out about solutions that you have discovered actually work.

Conversely, when using unknown services seek both types of counsel (end-user and legal) with the intention of discovering ways to unbridle your team rather than hobble them.

Let employees explore new tools yet hold individuals accountable for their behavior. Organizational security must be second nature in the porous cyber-world. If the need be, use both the carrot and the stick to avoid complacency. Demand quid pro quo: freedom for accountability. Address your fiduciary responsibility and take calculated risks. One of these risks is embracing publicly available cloud services that are supported by a robust shared services model.

Embrace creativity and innovation as opposed to traditionally oppressive IT teams. Stop allowing old-school IT cardholders to drive your agenda. The proverbial horizon is clearing and if you are merely looking to maintain control for control’s sake, your paradigm is dead.

Todd D. Lyle is the president of Duncan LLC and author of the Grounding the Cloud Series. Following a career as a U.S. Army Aviator, in 2007 Lyle founded Duncan Cloud Services Brokerage with a focus on the human element and the public cloud. Lyle is also the author of Grounding the Cloud: Basics and Brokerages, and will publish his second book in the series, Grounding the Cloud: Big Data and the Alphabet of Security in summer 2016. Check him out at or  @todddlyl.

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