shadow IT

Higher ed’s ‘shadow IT’ headache

Here's how to circumvent 3 challenges shadow IT poses for tech departments

Technology is shaping the future of higher education–there’s no denying it. Edtech touches every component of campus life, creating an IT infrastructure that rivals that of an enterprise.

Much like the CIO of a sprawling tech company, the CIO of a higher education institution is tasked with the same to-do list–maintaining and supporting each department’s technology needs, meeting industry regulations and compliance standards, etc.

However, where these two CIOs diverge lies in the wrangling of shadow IT.

Next page: What is shadow IT and how can IT teams meet its challenges?

So, what is shadow IT?

Shadow IT, as defined by TechTarget, “is hardware or software within an enterprise that is not supported by the organization’s central IT department.” In a higher education setting, it is a rampant issue. This is due to the fact that departments and researchers are prone to purchasing or creating technology applications, and paying for them with departmental budgets, without notifying IT. On top of that, campus IT teams are often understaffed and are granted fewer resources than their counterparts in an enterprise setting.

In short, higher education IT teams are faced with a mounting shadow IT problem, but often don’t have the time or the tools to manage it.

What challenges does shadow IT present in higher education?

Shadow IT in higher education presents three major roadblocks — managing applications, securing data and balancing the budget.

In terms of management, if a department or research team deploys unsanctioned technology, it makes it nearly impossible for IT to create a unified IT infrastructure. For example, if each department is using different unified communications technology — Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc., IT cannot roll out software updates, or even develop a uniform communications policy, across the campus. This leads to systems not working well together, which creates backend problems for IT and the departments themselves.

Shadow IT also introduces security threats. IT teams cannot protect department, research and student data if they are not aware of the applications that are in use. While departments may argue that industry compliance and governance hinders innovation, skirting these regulations makes a university vulnerable to outside threats and puts sensitive data at risk.

Outside of the management and security headaches shadow IT poses, it also creates budgetary roadblocks. If IT is not looped in from the beginning of the application procurement process, it cannot budget for the maintenance and support of those tools. It also makes it difficult for universities to allocate the funds needed to fuel technology adoption when the budget is fragmented from the get-go.

What can IT do about it?

It’s not uncommon for IT to turn a blind eye to the risks shadow IT poses. For sprawling universities, maintaining applications across departments can become an impossible task. The longer applications go unregulated, the harder it gets to manage the IT infrastructure, and the security risks only increase.

Instead of ignoring shadow IT, CIOs need to help empower their IT teams to address the problem. Today, more and more higher education IT teams are turning to third-party tools to fight shadow IT. These teams generally have three options — software asset management providers, accounting strategy companies or software service platforms.

Software asset management tools scan the IT environment and deliver data, so IT has visibility into technology usage and can identify shadow IT.

Accounting strategy companies give a status update on the environment so that IT can understand how shadow IT is affecting their budget and how it is being deployed.

Software service companies do both by allowing IT to centrally manage all core devices and systems through one platform. They generally offer a portal for all departments to purchase technology from directly, and then IT is able to monitor and track their usage and lifecycle across campus, as well as track the applications that are being used outside of the central managed software and devices.

At the end of the day though, for most IT teams, curbing shadow IT starts with education. It is up to IT to help department heads understand the benefits of working alongside IT, not against it. A partnership with IT will ensure that technology across campus has access to IT support, is allocated funds in the university’s budget and is working together to create a cohesive IT infrastructure.


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