Why shadow IT can be your biggest opportunity

840 readers like this.
CIO Innovation

Simplifying IT and streamlining IT operations is the best strategy for better meeting business goals, according to Chris Borkenhagen, vice president of IT at travel expense management company Concur. In an interview with The Enterprisers Project, he explains how this works at his company.

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Why is simplifying IT so important?

Borkenhagen: Our commitment has been to provide the highest levels of integration and customer-oriented service, which perhaps is another way of saying simplifying, streamlining IT and enabling employees.

We don't want to be the dictators of IT solutions, nor should we govern what can and can't be done. We aren't the "IT of no." We provide some common core solutions for the whole company to use to achieve most of our business goals — but there are so many more business applications out there that our employees want to use that aren't part of that core. And there are facets within business verticals, such as R&D, and software or services engineering, that might be better served by using different tools. We want to empower those employees to use whatever makes sense to them. We want to be the "IT of yes."

That's why we encourage our employees, the subject matter experts, to research and bring us the tools they want to use. We know the sales team will know more about what CRM tool will work best for them, and the finance team will have a better understanding of their requirements for a business analytics solution. We share our basic requirements — we have several security and compliance standards that must be met — and we always encourage employees to choose cloud solutions over on-prem. And then we figure out how we can best integrate the solution with our other applications. We become that integration arm, if you will, or that center point that connects everything.

We also value integration and collaboration as a team. I try to avoid using the term "I" very often in my line of work. Everything I do, I do as part of Concur's IT team, as "we." We're a team built around trust, respect and camaraderie, and that team philosophy has made a positive change in our organization as well.

TEP: What are some of the challenges of your approach to IT, and how have you met them?

Borkenhagen: The biggest challenge for IT is also our biggest opportunity. Shadow IT is often seen as a security threat to organizations, but it's up to us to minimize that threat and encourage employees to bring on applications that make them productive and can be easily secured. That said, one piece of advice I give to other IT leaders is to be open-minded. You have to be able to step out of your technology comfort zone and take calculated risks. I often can't believe how many people haven't embraced SaaS simply because they aren't comfortable with it. That kind of risk aversion stifles innovation.

Part of being open-minded is keeping your ear to the ground and knowing what's going on in your own organization and in the industry. Obviously, you want to know the new tools your employees are buzzing about, but it's important to get involved with the technical community. We participate in locally-sponsored events and regularly engage with other IT leaders or service vendors to hear about what they're working on. I also visit other offices to see and hear about their setups. We actually started modeling our office technology spaces in an open fashion upon visiting several different offices — including WeWork spaces — and getting a sense for how these offices inspired free-thinking. We added tons of whiteboard space, digital media screen technology service around the offices displaying corporate announcements and updates, and dual video screens in every conference room. Plus all the connectivity necessary to walk in, sit down, connect, and work.

What's more, I always encourage IT leaders to listen to young people who are exposed to new kinds of technology. At Concur, we're invested in hiring interns right out of college, and we encourage them to expose their ideas on where we're behind and need to catch up so we can be the kind of flexible, evolving workplace that appeals to the next generation of workers.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for Inc.com. She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.