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From shadow IT to distributed IT, CIOs are starting to roll with the punches

Two words: Business partner. That was a major theme running through the Fusion 2014 CEO-CIO Symposium this week in Madison, Wis. CIOs, you’ve heard this before and you’ve even discussed how partnering with the chief marketing officer or the chief financial officer makes good business sense. But if all that talk has yet to translate into action — better start moving.

A relatable example of this comes courtesy of your Software as a Service providers — both large and small. Pitching their products to the lines of business is now a tried-and-true strategy.  Who needs CIO approval? These products are so easy to implement and use, IT need never be involved!

Rick Davidson, a longtime CIO and the CEO and president of consulting and support services provider Cimphoni, Is no stranger to the tactic. SaaS vendors pitched their products against IT while he, the CIO, was in the room. “Frankly, I think they’re doing IT a disservice,” he said.

Evidence suggests they are. One Fusion audience member recounted how his HR department decided to bring in Workday, which provides on-demand HR and finance software. The HR department boasted it could do so without IT’s involvement. But once deployed, HR began backing off that statement, asking IT to help here and there.

“Now it’s come full circle,” this audience member said. HR came to him a little more than a week ago asking if IT could take over supporting Workday. “They didn’t realize what it meant to support the full functionality of SaaS,” he said.

The good news? It seems many CIOs are starting to roll with the punches — and avoiding black eyes. They’re living examples of statistics from the likes of Framingham, Mass.-based market research company IDC, which predicted that for the next four years, “IT spending by groups outside of IT departments will grow more than 6% per year.”

And they’re helping to transform what would traditionally be considered shadow IT into what one Fusion audience member called “distributed IT.” The professional advisory services firm Ernst & Young (EY) recently commissioned a survey of Fortune 1000 CIOs to learn about the challenges they face today. One interesting data point? Among the respondents, 62% indicated shadow IT services are either not very problematic or not at all problematic. “I was surprised to learn shadow IT was not a problem,” said analyst at EY Advisory Services Jeffrey Krause during his session at Fusion. “I was shocked.”

But Fusion attendees weren’t quite as surprised by the findings. “We made it a non-issue at our firm,” one audience member said. “We’re 65 people in IT and 800 people in the business. We’re outnumbered. It’s just simple math.”

The service-based economy doesn’t signal the death of the IT; instead, as the shadow IT-embracing audience member revealed, CIOs are figuring out ways to adapt to today’s service-based economy and become partners who support the business. “What we wanted to do was to help embrace what they’re doing and provide the guidance, particularly on security,” he said.

As Jonathan Martin, senior vice president of marketing for EMC Corp., put it, “I don’t want to just be a customer; I want a business partner. I have one of those for finance to keep me out of trouble and help me navigate tricky finances at EMC. … I need same thing in IT. I don’t want a specialist; I want someone who specializes in the technology I care about.”

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