No Jitter is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Coping with Shadow UC

I don't need to buy a unified communications (UC) system, nor do I need to ask my IT/telecom department for assistance or service. I have Skype and GoToMeeting Free, from which I can get both audio and video conferencing and screen sharing capabilities. I could also use some of the popular free social networks for collaboration. Some would refer to my approach to communications tools as "shadow UC."

Shadow unified communications, as I define it, is a term used to describe systems and services implemented and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval. Another term used for this is "stealth UC," which describes solutions implemented by departments other than the IT or telecom departments.

Shadow UC is considered an important source for innovation, and it may actually evolve from prototypes for future approved IT solutions. Shadow UC solutions may not align with an organization's requirements for control, documentation, security, reliability, etc.

There could be many factors driving users or managers to circumvent IT/telecom for UC services, including:

  • Solutions can be implemented almost instantaneously, without the need to wait for IT/telecom
  • Services are often cheap or free
  • A particular solution might have nice features and functions that are not offered by my organization's system or service
  • If most of my collaboration is with people not on the organization's network, it may be easier to use the platform that my top contacts are using
  • I don't want to pay for features and functions that I do not use
  • I run a separate P&L center so cost and technical choices should be mine
  • I want direct control over my collaboration services
  • Because IT/telecom mandates use of its collaboration platform without considering my requirements, and because the corporate policy on the use of technology services has not been justified to me, I see their offerings as a cost, not a value
  • There are plenty of competing UC cloud services all offering a nice OPEX payment structure that is priced competitively
  • I can already collaborate with my current mobile device (BYOD)

Gotchas of Shadow UC

Both security and compliance regulations often cause organizations to implement restrictions, policies, and procedures that many consider inconvenient. The average user going outside the organization may not know of these requirements.

Even when the collaboration service is free, there will be some way that the provider monetizes the service. In some cases, the user's information may be sold and/or used for advertising. The software download for service access may contain tracking and reporting technology as well as cookies that are otherwise blocked by the organization's system. This may seem harmless, but it presents one of the main problems with shadow UC: It could enable internal information to be viewed by external organizations.

Assuming that a department does use shadow UC, how does it collaborate with users on the organization's internal network? Is federation possible? Could this federation impair or weaken the existing restrictions, policies, and procedures? Probably. This means that those on the organization's collaboration network could be at risk because of the external collaborations that are part of shadow UC.

Going outside the organization is a behavior issue, but the IT/telecom staff should NOT attack, embarrass, or penalize shadow UC users. These users made a decision to implement shadow UC, so they clearly think it is a benefit to them.

This should be focused on the managers and any new users in the organization. The justification should be promoted annually before the next budget cycle so that managers can include the cost in their budgets.

There are some ways that IT/telecom can reduce incentives for using external collaboration services:

For more information on this topic, the IEEE produced a detailed article, "Shadow IT Evaluation Model," which includes an in-depth discussion of how to evaluate shadow IT that can also apply to shadow UC evaluation.