“Rogue IT” or the Little Red Hen?


It’s hard to label business units as “going rogue” for taking the initiative to help themselves, any more than you’d call the Little Red Hen “going rogue” for feeding her chicks. But you still need a vision for taking care of the whole flock.

I authored a three-part series of articles that ran last week in “Hub Designs” magazine, published by MDM consultant Dan Power.  The series was called “The IT Reformation and the Splinternet.” 

I used the term “the IT Reformation” to describe a dynamic that others have called “rogue IT” or “shadow IT.”*  Why?  Because IT Reformation is (1) less pejorative toward business units and (2) a more precise and constructive description of the dynamic as it exists today.

The IT Reformation: Less pejorative toward business users. 

Our company provides solutions for acquiring, managing and publishing master product data and related content such as product descriptions and digital images.  By any definition, these could be considered enterprise IT solutions, owing to the number of data sources and applications they touch, the number of processes and departments they intersect, and the strategic nature of the information involved.

The Little Red Hen

Unable to acquire a WLAN from her IT department, the Little Red Hen resorts to burying her own Cat 5e cable.

But the majority of our customers come to us from the business side of the house – business units that have “gone rogue,” so to speak.

Typically we first hear from someone in product marketing, e-commerce, or marketing communications. (Or a senior executive who leads all three.) They’ve taken the initiative to find a solution for managing and publishing their product content for print and Web catalogs, mobile apps, partner systems, and other requirements.  They’ve developed a business case and gotten funding.

And though they’ve limited their initial goals to improving just the business processes for which they’re responsible, they also need the cooperation of their IT department and of data and application “owners” across the enterprise.

Often, their IT departments concede they have challenges just corralling and managing the company’s master data, much less governing it (at the strategic end) and leveraging it (at the tactical end).  So they resolve to collaborate with the business unit on the work involved in standing up the solution, knowing that the solution should adhere to a central vision of information governance for the enterprise. (Assuming there is one, which may not be the case).

“…And who will help me normalize the data?”

But in the final analysis, it’s the business unit that has taken the lead.  The business unit has initiated the process for finding the solution and guided it through to implementation. The business unit benefits from the solution, and — not-so-coincidentally — so do other business units whose processes consume the newly mastered and governed data.

In fact, the company’s IT department also benefits because the solution can serve as the kernel around which broader data governance policies and procedures can be grown. And the enterprise as a whole benefits thanks to more reliable product data being available to all users and applications, which helps reduce operating costs, speed time to market, and provides other advantages as well.

All because a handful of supposed malcontents took it on themselves to make things happen.  It’s hard to label that kind of gumption as “going rogue,” any more than you’d label the Little Red Hen going rogue for planting the seeds, harvesting the wheat, and baking the bread.

However, it is certainly true that such initiatives, replicated dozens of times across an enterprise, can cause significant problems “without the scalable, secure and integrated features that only IT departments can manage,” and without the central vision that only IT leaders can provide.

The IT Reformation: A more precise description.

On October 31, 1517, German theologian Martin Luther published a list of 95 complaints he had about the established church.  It was the “tipping point” of the Protestant Reformation, marking the ascension of “the priesthood of the believer” – the ability of each person to speak to and hear from God directly, rather than having to go through the intermediation of a human cleric.

But the Protestant Reformation didn’t eliminate the need for pastoral leadership any more than so-called “rogue IT” eliminates the need for IT leadership.  In that light, much of what’s going on today (admittedly not all) isn’t so much “rogue IT” as it is a reflection of what I’ve called the IT Reformation – business units no longer furtively patching together improvised “shadow” solutions, but instead having official corporate blessing (and budget) to source and acquire their technology solutions.

As IT leadership expert Susan Cramm observes, business leaders would take the initiative and responsibility for their own technology needs in this new era; IT would shift to a role of “empower[ing] business unit self-sufficiency by providing education, coaching, tools and rules.”

In another take on this theme, technology consultant Eric D. Brown envisions IT departments evolving into two segments, one to handle operational and support issues, the other to focus on providing strategic and technical insights to ensure those solutions conform to the enterprise’s IT architecture and strategy.

Such partnerships will go a long way toward assuring that technology supports a constantly evolving business strategy that meets “the increasing pressure to get new products to market faster, respond to changing market demands and enter new global markets.”

The CIO of the Future

In the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, clergy of all denominations have come out from the sanctum sanctorum to mingle with their flock, to get to know them, to learn their pains and problems first-hand, and to provide them with servant leadership rather than detached and unilateral direction from on high.  As a result, pastors in the 21st Century have developed a diverse range of skills to accomplish their work.

In the same way, tomorrow’s CIO will have to possess a diverse range of business-savvy attributes, such as “visionary,” “communicator,” “strategist,” “change-agent,” and others.  As one CIO puts it:

We’ve got to continually challenge ourselves to stay current, to stay close to the business, to understand their needs, and then scan the industry for solutions that fit into that need set, as opposed to solutions that fit our paradigm of how we’ve structured delivery in the organization.

Business and IT leaders who work together in such close cooperation should have no problems achieving outstanding results that benefit individual business units as well as the enterprise as a whole.

*As you can see from the dates of those articles, the issues underlying the IT Reformation are long-standing.  This article from 2006 points out that there’s a distinction between “the traditional type [of rogue IT], where departments deploy their own apps or set up shadow IT groups, and the new type, where end-users download a grab bag of apps from the Web and have at it.”  Five years later, in today’s environment of handy cloud / social / mobile tools, the line between the two types is definitely blurring.

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