‘Shadow’ technology needs a Shadow Architect

shadow_mangleShadow 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).

Gardiner quotes Gartner’s prediction that by 2015, 35 percent of enterprise IT expenditures for most organisations will be managed outside the IT department’s budget, and by 2017 the Chief Marketing Officer will control more IT spend than the CIO.  A Cisco study in 2015 reports that many businesses consume ten times the number of cloud services that the IT department thinks they do. Little doubt that the problem is real and expanding. Particularly noteworthy are his stinging pronouncements on Enterprise Architecture and its three-decade fixation on models:

The purpose of Enterprise Architecture was supposed to have been to develop business solutions based on understanding and addressing business needs. Instead EA has lost all relevance, consumed with dabbling with obscure frameworks and arcane modelling languages that are not understood by either the business or IT.

The focus of the [EA] profession has been directed inwards on itself, rather than on the needs of the business. Enterprise Architecture associations and groups have been focused on developing new tools, certifications and modelling languages that are not understood or valued by the either IT or the business.

While it may have been possible to model an enterprise when UML was originally conceived, Gardiner argues, it is ‘now absurd to think that is still a viable concept’.  Just how useful are modelling tools to help the mission of ‘identifying and analysing the execution of change toward desired business vision and outcomes?’, he asks.

Assuming it is now too late for Shadow IT to be brought under enterprise technology management, Gardiner advocates the role of Shadow Architect to assist the business to innovate faster, operating in Gartner’s ‘Mode 2’ practice (in its BiModal model). The Shadow Architect leads and directs innovation and development, using completely different skills and approaches such as design thinking, prototyping, and agile design and development.  And all of this outside the governance and control of the IT department.  If the Enterprise Architect is a marathon runner, the Shadow Architect is a sprinter.

Shadow and Enterprise Architects could and should be complementary, although how they might ever agree on perennial enterprise information technology problems such as duplication and dispersal of data, divergent data formats, lack of interoperability and diversification of platforms and technologies — all of which are fueled by cloudy ‘innovation hubs’ at the edge — is not addressed in the paper.

Gardiner’s critique of enterprise architecture is laudable but unsubstantiated.  To claim that the practice of EA is, for many organisations, beyond the line of credibility and relevance, just adds further to the impressionistic hearsay that the judgement is based on.

It is true that the relative amounts of print and forum time devoted to EA frameworks and tools versus actual business impact of EA is overwhelmingly biased towards the former.  But EA is effectively practiced today in many forms — by business architects and analysts, business designers, transformation teams and in the general digitisation of the back office.  Enterprise Architects who fit Gardiner’s depiction are immature, dis-engaged with the business and will suffer relevance deprivation syndrome sooner or later.

‘Shadow Architect’ is heading in the right direction.  At a minimum the Shadow Architect must monitor the outbreak of cloud services at the edge.  As the role develops, it should coordinate between the edge and the center, starting with some basic controls.  Successful coordination is based on relationships, not models.

It is unlikely that we will start to see the role advertised on job sites, but the concept serves to drive home the importance of engagement for Enterprise Architects.   If Gartner’s predictions are correct, a re-balancing of architecture and planning expertise is needed between the CIO and CMO now.  Perhaps the Shadow Architect will have more success in articulating her value to the organisation that her Enterprise cousins have had.


2 thoughts on “‘Shadow’ technology needs a Shadow Architect

  1. Shadow IT is a reaction by “the business” to IT doing two things. (1) failing to respond to user requests, and (2) IT has pushed accountability for IT to the business.
    This article references Gartner, so we should continue that. Gartner has long had a philosophy that there is no such thing as an IT project, they are all business projects. They go futher and argue that the CEO is the most senior IT person in the organisation. All IT projects are required to have a “business owner” or sponsor.
    The IT organisation has abrogated responsibility for IT. Accountability and ownership have been pushed to the business and the business has accepted that responsibility. Shadow IT is simply the business driving the decisions that were foisted upon them.
    If any IT executive wants a different outcome they will need to step up and take a leadership role in the determination and delivery of IT

  2. Thanks Darryl, well said, I agree on all your points! IT departments are mostly pure legacy. Many enterprises less than 10 years old do not have IT, everything is either business-managed or as-a-service.
    The other side of the coin is that most of the world’s established enterprises have large legacy investments in data and systems, and as they just cannot turn these off overnight, the IT department (and therefore the Shadow Architect role) both have a while to run.
    To borrow from Gartner again, may I suggest about 2 decades, probability 0.7. During this time ‘the business’ will spend more and more on subscription services and less and less internally, leaving a disorderly trail of discarded data across dozens of cloud services. I for one expect to be shadow architecting for some of this time, helping sponsors to make informed choices of as-a-service offerings, and mopping up when they don’t read the fine print.

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