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Shadow IT in enterprise messaging apps

Blog How We Chat February 6, 2019
Shadow IT
Dominic Kent

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Shadow IT in enterprise messaging apps

Shadow IT

Since writing this article in July 2018, every conversation I have had with an IT professional has mentioned shadow IT and shadow messaging.

With everyone using their own mobile devices, the door is open to a wider range of ways to message each other. Enterprises should be aware of the complexities involved when it comes to modern messaging apps before regulating how and if employees should use them. Below we’ll explore what Shadow IT is, how it comes about, and 5 things to do about it.

How shadow IT starts in enterprise messaging

Let’s say all employees are provided with Gmail, a handset and Cisco Webex Teams. Here, they are presented with three official choices to communicate within the workplace.

Now place yourself in this scenario:

It’s 4:30 pm and with one hour left in the workday, you need some answers from your boss for an EOD deadline.
Your boss only checks her emails in the morning.
She’s in meetings and you know she doesn’t look at Webex Teams much on her phone.
You would call her, but you don’t want to interrupt the meeting.

What do you do?

In the end, you decide to WhatsApp your boss.
You know she was online two minutes ago and her status is set to available.
She replies immediately.
The trusty personal messaging app came to the rescue.

WhatsApp is a consumer grade favorite but has always been classed as shadow IT
WhatsApp is a consumer grade favorite but has always been classed as shadow IT

Can you blame the employee for doing what it takes to meet the deadline? Or maybe the boss is to blame. You don’t always know what the other end of the conversation prefers, and it varies by roles within the company and the context of the day’s events. Communication preferences matter.

Real world scenarios

Ryan Purvis, CTO of HiLo Marine Risk Management told us that he’s seen shadow IT  and shadow messaging in most companies he’s worked in. The former JP Morgan Chase and UBS employee said “Without apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams, we didn’t have – but we did need – persistent real-time communication. The use of WhatsApp and iMessage was widely accepted.”

I asked Chad Reese, IT Director at Pro Football Hall Of Fame if it was a challenge to cater to everyone’s messaging requirements. His response was yes because of shadow IT. “At one point we didn’t offer a lot phone-wise. People didn’t know you could install Microsoft Teams or Glip on your phone. We saw the younger generation start using WhatsApp groups.”

Lyndsay Lantz, Senior Manager of Enterprise Systems at SailPoint, said her way of dealing with shadow messaging and the use of consumer messaging apps are centered around trust. “It fits with our culture. We don’t police our employees. If you’re chatting with your mates all day long, it’ll become obvious. I’m not a big believer in micromanaging or not allowing access to Facebook so you can’t take some time for yourself.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame messaging inventory comprises Email, SMS, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral Glip and WhatsApp
Pro Football Hall of Fame messaging inventory comprises Email, SMS, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral Glip, and WhatsApp

Keeping Control

Banning the use of personal applications and devices in the workplace is not going to go down well, and will probably slow down your business.
Enterprises must accept there will always be shadow messaging traffic. But, CIOs can’t simply adopt an “out with the old, in with whatever” mentality. Data must be governed and treated securely. For example, client information and sensitive documents do not belong on WhatsApp, but nudging a busy boss isn’t causing any harm.

Collaboration solutions like Cisco Webex Teams do a great job of including as much media and communication channels in one secure application. Users can get most, if not all of their work done without navigating away if used correctly. However, when we are talking about purely communication, and not sensitive data, your staff are best left to their own devices (literally).

Cisco Webex Teams does a great job of including as much media and communication channels in one application. Cisco Webex Teams does a great job of including as much media and communication channels in one application.

What To Do About Shadow Messaging

  1. Use chat integrations to your advantage

    Adding more integrations to your collaboration tools will help employees be more productive. Applications like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams integrate with loads of apps your employees use. This makes it easier, and more secure, to share sensitive data within a collaboration suite. Think about how you can speed up your approval workflows using integrations. One Mio beta tester once told us they “would use a Shared Slack Channel to chat with an outside agency, but my IT department usually doesn’t respond for a week,” leaving them to set up more informal modes on their own.

  2. Audit

    Conduct an audit if you don’t know what your team uses (monitor traffic patterns for shadow messaging apps), and ask them why they like using those apps. Is it better UX? Is it where they know that person responds fastest? Are official apps too noisy? ComputerWorld suggested a checklist approach for capturing messaging needs.

  3. Create a “just enough” process

    Have protocols & processes for sharing sensitive data, so employees have parameters for where to chat about what.
    You can also implement a chat style guide to reduce notification-overload. Employees need to know when to appropriately mention all members in a group, and what channels or spaces to use for different kinds of chat.

  4. Acknowledge personal communication habits

    A research study showed that an individual’s preference for a type of communication channel directly relates to how effective they find that medium to be.
    Bobby likes face-to-face discussions. Sarah prefers all information in Jira Tickets.
    This is something we’re all familiar with but needs to be examined by most managers when it comes to chat. In the example above, the employee already knew his boss would not be checking email until the morning and that she wouldn’t notice a message on Webex Teams in time to meet his deadline. Make your preferences known, and ask others what they prefer themselves. Then everyone can operate more efficiently.

  5. Embrace chat interoperability

    When your team has access to multiple workplace collaboration tools, there’s more opportunity to embrace different preferences of productivity. If Developers prefer Slack for DevOps, and marketing and sales prefer Webex Teams because it integrates with Cisco meeting hardware, then silos of communication pathways will cause shadow messaging. Fortunately, Mio allows chat interoperability between Slack and Cisco Webex Teams with simple integration. You can watch our video to see exactly how it works.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to leave a comment, and follow us on LinkedIn & Twitter to join in the messaging conversation.

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24 Comments
  1. […] change. How long will it take for your team to get up to speed? Is there risk they could migrate to unapproved chat apps while migration takes […]

  2. […] What’s worse? When employees can’t rely on their tools at work to get things done, they’ll seek out other options. In fact, 85% of working millennials turn to non-approved apps like Instagram, Facebook Messenger, SMS, & Snapchat. This leads to compliance and security issues as a result of Shadow Messaging. […]

  3. […] shadow messaging is alive and well at your company, it might be preferable to work together with your internal Slack […]

  4. […] shadow messaging is alive and well at your company, it might be preferable to work together with your internal Slack […]

  5. […] In collaboration IT, interoperability usually happens when competitors work together. When two competing systems work together, without regard to brand name, the end user’s outcome then becomes same. This is crucial for collaboration to enable, well, genuine collaboration. Lack of interoperability in collaborative businesses creates communication silos, friction, and often leads to what we’ve termed “shadow messaging.” […]

  6. […] see shadow messaging in nearly every business we talk to, so the good news is you’re not alone. The even better […]

  7. […] If a millennial is given a dated messaging app, but a colleague has a nicer platform outside of the norm, they will use it. It’s more productive, no brainer. This leads to an unhealthy world of shadow messaging. […]

  8. […] in touch with different members of your group, you’ve got a problem. The issues of Shadow IT and shadow messaging is beginning to run rampant in today’s digital space. Companies are struggling to find a chat […]

  9. […] is the answer to the problems of shadow messaging, siloed communication and multiple collaboration tools. With Mio, you can sync all your […]

  10. […] blog, 98% of business apps and tools are Shadow IT. More specifically in the messaging arena is shadow messaging. Apps like Slack started off as shadow messaging in enterprises. If you take the stance where you […]

  11. […] We always refer to this challenge as shadow IT. At one point we didn’t offer a lot phone-wise. People didn’t know you could install […]

  12. […] talk a lot about shadow messaging. Is that an issue inside your […]

  13. […] see shadow messaging in nearly every business we talk to, so the good news is you’re not alone. The even better […]

  14. […] In collaboration IT, interoperability usually happens when competitors work together. When two competing systems work together, without regard to brand name, the end user’s outcome then becomes same. This is crucial for collaboration to enable, well, genuine collaboration. Lack of interoperability in collaborative businesses creates communication silos, friction, and often leads to what we’ve termed “shadow messaging.” […]

  15. […] What’s worse? When employees can’t rely on their tools at work to get things done, they’ll seek out other options. In fact, 85% of working millennials turn to non-approved apps like Instagram, Facebook Messenger, SMS, & Snapchat. This leads to compliance and security issues as a result of Shadow Messaging. […]

  16. […] change. How long will it take for your team to get up to speed? Is there risk they could migrate to unapproved chat apps while migration takes […]

  17. […] Some business leaders attempt to cure the problem by banning specific tools from the workplace. Though this might seem to work at first, the truth is that it’s challenging to prevent your employees from using the applications they prefer. What’s more, if you’re successful at eliminating certain apps from the office, it probably means they’ve turned to shadow messaging. […]

  18. […] For some, the only solution seems to be learning how to block Slack. Unfortunately, preventing your employees from accessing their preferred resources is easier said, than done and shadow messaging often lives on. […]

  19. […] Convince everyone to move to a new app. You’ll also have to make sure that your employees are comfortable with the idea of moving to a new enterprise chat app and staying there. Fail to drive adoption properly, and Microsoft Teams will simply become shadow messaging. […]

  20. […] favorite app behind your back if they’re not happy on Cisco. That’s where problems like shadow IT and workplace silos begin to […]

  21. […] The likelihood of only using Skype for chat and messaging is slim. Even if unsanctioned, there is likely a small group – or a huge group – of Slack users collaborating in your business. We commonly refer to this extension of shadow IT as shadow messaging. […]

  22. […] no guarantee that your users will exclusively use Teams. We’re living in the era of shadow IT, where more employees continue to use the apps they prefer – whether business leaders like it […]

  23. […] their real potential. The belief that teams need to use multiple best-in-breed collaboration tools, shadow IT and communication silos have led to confusion and turmoil in the business […]

  24. […] would be simple for IT to banish shadow messaging apps and introduce a one-size-fits-all approach. However, one-size does not fit all. The stereotype is […]