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Confessions from Shadow IT

by Cindi Howson  |  July 24, 2015  |  3 Comments

I think I’m having a mid life crisis: am I business or IT? Who do I want to be?

Having only just joined Gartner this year, I keep hearing about how we analysts need to be able to speak with business people. More BI buying is shifting to the business! The business has its own IT!  I chuckle every time I hear this, because my entrée into the BI world (and into IT) was as the jack-of-all IT, in a business unit.  Yep, I was the LAN administrator, report developer, Lotus 123 macro queen, and router-resetter—  in a business. I was “shadow IT.” The business bought all their own technology, and in those days, IT hated me. The disdain was mutual. IT slowed me down and challenged almost every technology effort the business undertook. This business unit flaunted its agility in IT’s face. But the business wrote my pay check and had its own IT budget. So we didn’t care too much what the ivory tower IT people thought. Some days, I felt sorry for the people who worked in standards-stifling IT.

And then, I moved to the dark side. IT.

It seems my analytical skills would be of value to other business units and my life in shadow IT had no clear career path. I went from being loved and appreciated by the business to distrusted, overnight. It hurt.

Jumping from business to IT

Fortunately for me, BI and analytics is one of those rare technologies that has always required a blend of technical and business skills. I can categorically say the same is not true of my years in local area networking. Many BI initiatives started in a business unit, when BI was deployed departmentally. I have often said that IBM Cognos PowerPlay and Oracle Hyperion Essbase were the first generation data discovery tools (mid 1990s), pre Tableau and Qlik. Then BI grew up, moved to the enterprise, and largely to IT. BI got closer to a single further of the truth with trusted data, but it also got bloated, slow, and monolithic along the way.

With the pace of business change and the enablers of technology, Gartner has been advocating a bimodal approach to BI (see this note on the keynote from the BI summit). Be both centralized and decentralized. Governed and agile. Bring those “shadow IT” people in the business units out of the shadows. Partner with them. Help them. Learn from them. Most certainly, don’t ever snigger, sit back, and say, “I can’t wait for you to implode.”

Such an approach might be a profound shift in thinking for some people on either side of BI. For others, it will be an evolution, and for the more analytically mature, that “we’re on the same side” mindset will have been there from day one. Business-IT partnership is critical for BI success. Some of the best BI leaders I’ve worked with have come from the business. When they’ve grown up in IT, they’ve rounded out their business knowledge by going back to school or working alongside their business users, walking in their shoes.

So maybe my midlife crisis is one of identity. I don’t consider myself IT. I’ve always been the business, who needs IT, and we should be one and the same.

With no regrets,

Cindi Howson


Partnership or one and the same?


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Category: business-analytics  business-intelligence  

Cindi Howson
Research VP
1 years at Gartner
25 years IT Industry

Cindi Howson is a Research Vice President at Gartner, where she focuses on business intelligence (BI) and analytics. Her work includes writing about market trends, vendors and best practices and advising organizations on these subjects. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Confessions from Shadow IT

  1. […] Cindi Howson I think I’m having a mid life crisis: am I business or IT? Who do I want to be?Having only […]

  2. […] a recent Gartner blog post, Research Vice President Cindi Howson wrote about her days in the industry working in what is […]

  3. John Lynn says:

    Fascinating look at shadow IT. I think it’s genius to not condemn Shadow IT or to let them die on the vine, but instead to embrace what they’re doing and work together with them on the project.

    There’s definitely a divide between IT and business. And you’re absolutely right about BI being unique in its need for both business and IT. We’re going to need more of that in the future in healthcare. Otherwise, more shadow IT projects will happen than we’ve ever seen before.

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