The workaround: Inelegant and inefficient

Shadow IT: Why Hacks and Workarounds are Bad for Your Bottom Line

Most people have employed a hack or workaround at some point in their professional career to get things done—used Outlook for managing content, Excel for tracking projects, PowerPoint for layout and design.

That kind of resourcefulness may be commendable, but it can be terribly inefficient—and expensive. Many organizations provide employees with a range of tools that are designed for specific types of tasks—think Microsoft Teams, Project, SharePoint, and others. When employees don’t use the tools their organization provides, the result is waste and, potentially, security risk.

According to a report by UK software company 1E, companies are wasting 37 percent of what they spend on software, costing more than $30 billion or roughly $259 per desktop.

In a recent blog post, Gartner’s Craig Roth writes about what he calls “the secret lives of productivity tools” and provides several possible reasons for employees’ preference for shadow IT workarounds:

  • It’s often simpler: If an employee doesn’t know how to use a tool, nor are they able to spend time learning it, they will choose the workaround for its perceived simplicity.
  • It’s available: Even if better-suited technology is not expensive, some organizations believe it’s still cheaper for employees to use the tools they know and have access to. The training and ramp-up time associated with new technology is viewed as unnecessary or prohibitive.
  • It’s what they know: Change is risky and can be painful. If a person has relied on the same tool or process for years, it’s difficult to get them to try something new—even if the new technology or approach is clearly better.

Change is necessary in today’s business environment, and that’s the challenge. Organizations must increase efforts to eliminate shadow IT and workarounds by changing how they approach tech investments. They must take steps to ensure their employees know which tools are available to them, why they are better suited, and how to use them effectively. Here are three ways to get started:

1 PROVIDE COMMUNICATION, TRAINING AND SUPPORT. Let employees know which tools they have access to, why they should use them, and how the technology can improve their work processes. Provide training that suits a range of learning styles and preferences. Be sure to include specific use cases—don’t just tell them how an application can increase their efficiency, show them.

2 STAY ONE STEP AHEAD. Keep an eye on Microsoft’s roadmap to see what changes are in development, are rolling out, or have recently been launched. Communicate those changes to employees on a regular basis and provide training and support to avoid disruption and minimize downtime.

3 CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF CONTINUOUS LEARNING. In the past, employees could get by just using a handful of Office applications, such as Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. But they aren’t enough today.Make sure employees know how to use critical applications like Teams, SharePoint, and OneDrive for Business, among others—and how the software can simplify collaboration and improve productivity. Be sure to offer training that’s relevant to their jobs, and support that’s available when they need it.

Hacks and workarounds may have worked for MacGyver, but they have no place in digital business. Organizations provide employees with a range of modern tools—it’s time to start making sure they know how to use them effectively.

Image: Horia Varlan from Bucharest, Romania [CC BY 2.0]

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