Many companies are increasingly facing a major obstacle in the context of digitization. Although employees are provided with all the IT resources they need to carry out their work, many employees use their own systems instead. These are already better known to them or simply more convenient. Such technologies are often clouds or online-based IT systems such as Dropbox or AWS.  And the big problem is already there: a shadow IT arises, which entails a lot of risks and security traps.

What does the term “shadow IT” mean exactly?

Shadow IT is the unauthorized use of off-duty secondary systems that are used by employees in addition to or even instead of the company’s internal IT solutions. Employees can quickly be dazzled by the simple handling or a pretty design. At the same time, they forget to consider the associated risks. What the workforce is often not aware of: Unofficial apps for managing projects, sharing data or even systems for creating notes also fall under the term shadow IT.

Reasons for the emergence of shadow IT

But how does shadow IT even come about? What reasons induce employees at home and in the office to use unofficial IT resources?


It is not uncommon for shadow IT to emerge due to the coziness and the desire for comfort among the workforce. New systems or differing IT resources at home and at work are a thorn in the side of many employees. After all, they usually mean a lot of work. Since humans are naturally inclined to be comfortable, many employees put the use of company-external IT systems into perspective with the familiar handling or the alleged time savings.

High complexity of the company tools

Especially if the company has recently implemented the use of new IT resources, many employees find themselves trapped in the complexity of the new systems. In order to avoid the annoying and often tedious internalization of new IT solutions, they often simply use their own programs.

mobile devices

But mobile devices such as tablets or the classic smartphone also drive employees to fall back on familiar material at work and to use the integrated IT systems for the purposes of the company.

Shadow IT also possible in the home office

In addition, it often happens that employees find the IT in the company so cumbersome and as a result also use their own IT at home. This can happen, for example, in the form of using Lotus Notes in the company instead of MS Office. The consequence of this: employees send documents to their private PC, process them with MS Office and then send them back to the company PC or use WhatsApp for communication during working hours.

Risks of a shadow IT

Often employees, both in the home office and at the workplace, completely ignore the potential dangers of this approach or are not even aware of their wrong actions.

Difficult data management

If every employee manages their work and the associated data and information in a different IT resource, the IT department, whose task is to link all data sets, easily loses track. It is difficult to combine and analyze data from different systems. This can ultimately result in incomplete data management, which can also result in the loss or worthlessness of important information.

Loss of control of the IT department

Finally, IT processes can no longer be traced at all on the basis of difficult or incomplete data management. This can result in a total loss of control for the IT department. As a result, processes and systems in the company slow down or become impracticable.


However, general IT security can also be exposed to a high risk through the use of shadow IT. External IT resources often have unknown danger spots that the employee is not aware of. This makes it much easier for hackers and cyber criminals to enter the company and steal important data.

Risks of a malware attack

In addition, online-based IT resources in particular harbor the risk of malware attacks. Malware can be smuggled into company-internal processes with a simple update of such a web service.


Last but not least, it should also be mentioned that major problems can arise, especially with regard to the recently introduced new EU GDPR. With the new regulation, companies are legally bound to maintain the security of customer data. Through the unofficial use of shadow IT, employees also release data outside of the company in the worst case, which consequently leads to  Compliance violations against the EU GDPR.


However, there is no general and easily transferable solution for eliminating shadow IT in the company. Instead, companies should ensure that their employees are given the best possible support in the process of learning new technologies. It is also advisable to provide employees with tools that are as understandable as possible, instead of relying on complex systems. In relation to this, it is also advisable to involve the workforce in the selection of suitable IT systems and thereby ensure the practicality of the new technologies. For this, it is important that the IT department and workforce are in constant contact and exchange with one another, so that there is no need to use unauthorized IT programs in the first place.
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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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