‘Shadow IT‘ is a term used to describe information systems and solutions built and used inside organisations without explicit organisational approval. Cloud services, mobility and ‘Bring Your Own Device’ are driving an explosion in Shadow IT. Shadow IT, like shadow finance and shadow economy suggests noncompliance and illegality. Unlike the black market, shadow technology notionally unleashes immediate benefits but harbours a latent potential to damage its host. Quantifying the risk, and getting sufficient attention to do something about it, is the issue.
Technology departments have tried to ‘reign in’ these rogues using the frameworks and processes of Enterprise Architecture, without much success. One reason for the partial failure is that Enterprise Architects have a propensity to focus on risk management, standards compliance and centralised governance. This narrow ‘old-school’ focus locks them to the core, not the edge of the business where innovation happens. Meanwhile, the business units, driven by digital demand and unaided by their IT counterparts, have initiated their own innovation platforms. That’s the line taken by Dean Gardiner from Dell Australia in his paper at the Australian Enterprise Architecture Conference (Sydney, October 2015).
On a crowded loop station this morning I notice a regular looking middle-class man in his late thirties, standing to the side of the crowd on the station platform, tentatively reaching into the yellow recycle bin to retrieve a mint condition daily newspaper, probably discarded by a fellow traveler minutes earlier. No regular scavenger, his down-turned eyes and the furtiveness of his stance convey a sense of the stigma that society holds for what should be a perfectly rational and sensible act — reusing something that is at hand rather than buying his own.
Commuters on a train, 1955, before smartphones (Getty images).
For a method that purports to tackle real-world problems, practical examples of systems thinking in action are elusive. Refreshing, then, to read a special edition of the Cornell Policy Review on systems thinking, which presents accounts of the systems thinking craft in a readable and digestible form. In the interests of better policy, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Fellow Harrison Speck makes some headway in understanding the question of why child protection case workers in Texas do not always stay long in their jobs (paper and video).
Systems thinking is on to something. There’s something there. It harbors truths that conventional business and organisational perspectives miss. It is easy to get this impression from the volumes of social media, literature and management debate it continues to sustain after three decades. But systems thinking as a discipline or body of knowledge does not make it easy to get to those insights and truths. Ways to penetrate the systems thinking morass are neither obvious or accessible.
Even with the best and most complete of models and frameworks, the practice of Enterprise Architecture (EA) in organisations isn’t always effective. Analysis does not always explain everything that happens, and changes that Enterprise Architects (EAs) make do not always deliver the expected benefits. When EA does not deliver value as expected, or when it cannot be represented as a transparent cause and effect relationship, some EA defenders draw our attention to long delays in the enterprise’s adoption of information technology. In light of this, EA should be thought of as an investment against things that might otherwise go wrong — kind of like a ‘flu shot for 2025. Other apologists blame flaws in the EA frameworks and methods used, or in the way that they are used.
It seems that certain verbs are becoming nouns, for no particular reason that I can see based in grammar, semantics or the logic of language. This appears to be a recent phenomena, and in a few cases, nounification has propelled these lucky innocuous verbs into the noun stratosphere. The first is the innocent little doer-word ‘reveal’.
make (previously unknown or secret information) known to others.
Christmas is coming, again. Last year, Australians reportedly spent $A32B at an average of $A1,200 per person during the silly season. Nearly twenty million of these gifts with a value of around $A1B were unwanted and were sold, re-gifted, stored or dumped. For myself, a distinctive marker of post-consumerism came when a ten year-old family member declared a few weeks out from Christmas that he didn’t know what to ask for this year because he couldn’t think of anything he particularly wanted. It seems that between Christmas, birthdays, special days and rewards for good behavior the number of buying opportunities outstrips some family member’s needs or even desires. So it seems we are now living in an age of post-consumerism, even for ten year-olds. We are beyond some western models of growth, in uncharted territory.