Rogue IT may be a blessing in disguise

CIOs could benefit from hidden tech spending, but only if they learn to work with the "bad boys of IT"

“Rogue IT,” or hidden technology spending outside the IT organization, is a problem long known to large-enterprise CIOs. But by definition it’s been hard to quantify, so when an item came across my desk claiming that 93 percent of corporate users had deployed software not sanctioned by IT, I was hopeful for some real data.

Turns out the numbers came from a security software vendor’s self-serving survey, which gained a sheen of credibility by appearing on a trade media Web site. The study did make a useful argument, however, that there are really two types of Rogue IT: the traditional type, where departments deploy their own apps or set up shadow IT groups, and the new type, where end-users download a grab bag of apps from the Web and have at it.

Gartner estimates that “hidden” IT spending accounts for an additional 30 percent on top of most corporate IT budgets, and in some cases up to 50 percent. What to do? Well, there’s an urban legend from the ’80s about a satellite TV company that knew its signal was being pirated but had no way of stopping it. It broadcast a free T-shirt offer, for which you had to call in and give your name and address. It was then a simple matter of mailing legal documents to callers not on their subscriber list.

CIOs could come up with ploys like this, but I have another idea: Don’t fight the tide. The world is changing and business people are going to do more IT on their own simply because they can. They’ve got money and talent, and can drive to Best Buy like the rest of us. Instead of cracking down hard on these bad boys, co-opt them; find a way to get them on the grid, so you can exert some influence over their approach.

In its report entitled “How to Eliminate Five Causes of Poor IT Financial Visibility,” Gartner advocates centralization of IT procurement as one way to rein in rogue spending. It also acknowledges that hidden grassroots IT efforts often stem from dissatisfaction with IT, or because IT lacks the resources to move quickly enough on an important business project. One Gartner suggestion: “establish a mechanism that enables business units to provide emergency funding to IT, so that IT may assemble the skills it needs to meet the business-unit backlog.”

Maybe. But I think the bigger issue is attitudinal. CIOs need to start looking at Rogue IT as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Like Lyndon Johnson once said of J. Edgar Hoover: “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.”

Telecommuting, take two  I got great e-mails on my recent telecommuting column, including one reader who said I forgot to mention the word “tele-hooky” (I’ll let that speak for itself). Others thought telecommuting had yet to reach it potential: Bill in California noted that we don’t hold office workers to the same standards we hold telecommuters -- they goof off too, and often end up mostly communicating with colleagues electronically anyway.

But Don in Arizona praised the office environment. “A quick face-to-face chat in the hallway is a remarkably productive way to exchange information,” he said. “The issues of telecommuting go beyond technological constraints or management suspicion of slacking off. They go to the heart of the human animal. We are social creatures by nature.”

Thanks, Don.