ManagementSpeak: This year we are limiting our corporate strategic initiatives to five key items.

Translation: We actually have double that, but five fits better on the page and we hope you’ll be less upset when we ask you to do the rest, too.

D.K., who provided this week’s bit of management math, is concerned he might have underestimated the multiplier.

Don’t apply traditional IT portfolio governance to shadow IT.

Why? Start with two iron-clad rules of IT portfolio governance:

  • No business sponsor, no project. With shadow IT, sponsorship is automatic. If nobody in the business cares at sponsorship levels the project wouldn’t be happening. A formal governance check is superfluous.
  • The only legitimate outcomes are “no” and “when.” There’s no maybe, and no priority scoring. With formal IT, approved projects are those added to the master schedule, to start when the necessary staff are available to work on them.

With shadow IT, the whole point is that the business area undertaking the project isn’t willing to wait.

The entire reason businesses need so-called IT governance … really, business change governance … is because of scarcity. In most companies there just aren’t enough IT developers to satisfy the business appetite for change and improvement.

Scarcity isn’t part of the shadow IT equation. Rather than trying to get their slice of the IT developer pie, with shadow IT, business units own the whole pie.

Does this mean shadow IT should be governance-free?

Yes … but no.

“Governance” almost always means “a committee must review this.”

That’s the no. Just as we have to restrain our natural impulse to strangle idiots, so, in business, we should restrain the impulse to form committees.

The yes comes from what we might call the John B. Finch principle: “Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes usually gets the credit.)

Shadow IT projects (really, shadow business-change projects) have three noses in range:

Re-keying: Shadow IT tends to deliver “islands of automation,” unintegrated with the rest of the company’s applications and information portfolios. That often results in the need to re-key data from other systems into the shadow-IT system, and to re-key data from it back into the company’s systems of record.

The former isn’t a problem. If the department head decides re-keying into the system is just fine, it is, by definition, just fine.

But the latter? If the re-keying must be performed by employees who report elsewhere, the project might violate the Finch Principle. It doesn’t if they’re keying the data now and this just changes the source. But if one manager is shoveling new work into a different department’s inbox, it’s a Finch Principle violation.

Fortunately, there’s a committee-free solution readily available. All the manager whose nose has been put out of joint has to do is document the offense and its budget impact. The result: The Finch Principle violator has to bear the expense. The company budgeting process obviates the need for separate governance.

Data exposure: Imagine the point of a shadow-IT system is to facilitate working with an external partner. Now imagine it inadvertently exposes sensitive data beyond the walls of the corporation. It’s a clear Finch Principle violation.

Happily, there’s a committee-free solution to this too. It’s a policy, probably an existing policy: InfoSec reviews all systems that are used by or expose data to outsiders.

Data governance: A popular approach to IT integration is the “federated architecture” — an environment that looks like a unified whole even though under the covers it’s been assembled from a variety of COTS and SaaS solutions.

A major challenge for federated architectures is reconciling data definitions so that data entered into one system can flow into the corresponding fields in other systems without mishap. As those in the trenches know while those who rely on PowerPoint do not, semantic mismatch, not field-level synchronization, is the big challenge to systems integration.

Shadow IT systems will often ignore the usual controls for this because it’s an eye-glazingly boring problem. Unless, that is, you’re either responsible for the integrity of the IT architecture, or genetically predisposed to lexicography.

Even if integration happens through re-keying, semantic mismatches can pollute data in the company’s systems of record.

The solution, to the extent there is one, doesn’t require a committee, although regrettably, many companies rely on committees to handle data governance.

Companies that want consistent data create and maintain some sort of glossary (data dictionary or encyclopedia) for that purpose. Everyone who uses data relies on it.

Which in turn probably means you’ll need to create some form of “Glossary Police” to make sure even shadow IT projects adhere to its definitions. But please … don’t make the Glossary Police a committee.

You’re better than that.