In the evolving landscape of nonprofits, the judicious integration of Information Technology (IT) services is indispensable for growth and efficiency. Yet as technology becomes more integrated into the way nonprofits operate, a new menace is lurking in the IT shadows: Shadow IT. This rather clandestine term refers to the use of any IT systems, applications, or services that don’t have explicit approval or oversight from your organization’s IT department. A prime and very common example of Shadow IT is the use of platforms like Google Docs and Shared Drives outside of organizational control and administration. How can the use of something as mainstream as Google Docs leave your nonprofit open to danger? Let’s explore the potential risks of Shadow IT and see how your IT service providers can help you navigate the threat landscape.

The Appeal of Shadow IT

Why would someone in your organization choose to use Shadow IT? The answer lies in its apparent convenience and accessibility. Employees often resort to using platforms like Google Docs for collaboration, file sharing, and document creation because they are user-friendly, readily available, and can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. The ease of use, coupled with the perception of increased efficiency, can lead employees to bypass official IT channels in favor of these external solutions – particularly when they are collaborating with someone who is not on staff. While their very good intentions may simply be to streamline work processes, the ramifications of this seemingly innocent Shadow IT use can be severe.

Data Security Issues

One of the biggest dangers of Shadow IT use is that it compromises data security. When employees use external platforms without proper authorization, they can expose sensitive donor or client information to potential breaches. Unlike authorized IT systems, platforms like Google Docs may lack robust security measures, making them vulnerable to hacking. The absence of encryption, secure authentication protocols, and regular security updates can create a breeding ground for unauthorized access and data leaks. Furthermore, when employees use personal accounts to access work-related materials on these external platforms, they might inadvertently share confidential information with unintended recipients. This lack of control over data flow can have serious consequences, especially in nonprofit organizations where data privacy and compliance are paramount.

Regulatory Risks

In an era where data protection regulations are becoming increasingly stringent, non-compliance can result in severe legal consequences for some nonprofits. Employees who use Shadow IT generally don’t consider regulatory requirements, putting the organization at risk of violating data protection laws such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), or other industry-specific regulations.

Particularly with international nonprofits, the use of external platforms may involve the storage and transmission of sensitive data across borders, potentially exposing the organization to legal liabilities. IT service providers play a crucial role in helping organizations navigate compliance requirements, ensuring that all IT activities align with the relevant regulations and standards. That’s why using technology that they don’t oversee can put your nonprofit at risk.

Fragmented Collaboration

While the intention behind tools like Google Docs is to enhance collaboration, if left unchecked, the proliferation of Shadow IT can lead to fragmented organizational communication. Different departments using disparate tools may find it challenging to share information seamlessly, resulting in silos and inefficiencies. This lack of integration can hamper a nonprofit’s ability to operate cohesively and adapt to changing circumstances swiftly. IT providers can assist organizations in implementing unified collaboration and communication solutions that align with security and compliance standards. By offering a centralized platform, organizations can foster collaboration while maintaining control and visibility over data and communication channels.

Loss of IT Governance and Visibility

While seemingly innocent, Shadow IT ultimately undermines the authority of your internal IT department, leading to a loss of governance and visibility over your digital landscape. When employees independently adopt external tools, it becomes challenging for IT professionals to monitor, manage, and secure these decentralized systems. This lack of visibility can impede their ability to do their job – which is detecting and responding to potential security threats.

IT providers can help nonprofits regain control by implementing IT governance frameworks. This involves establishing clear policies, conducting regular audits, and leveraging advanced monitoring tools to gain insights into the organization’s IT real infrastructure. By maintaining a proactive stance, IT providers can assist organizations in identifying and mitigating potential risks associated with Shadow IT.

Impact on IT Budgets

Another often overlooked danger of Shadow IT is its impact on IT budgets. When employees independently adopt external solutions, it can lead to redundant expenses as different departments procure similar tools without coordination. This decentralized approach to IT spending can result in inefficiencies, wasted resources, and an overall increase in operational costs that few nonprofits can afford. IT providers can play a strategic role in optimizing IT budgets by conducting a thorough digital assessment. By identifying redundancies and streamlining IT investments, service providers can help organizations achieve cost savings without compromising on functionality and security.

Mitigating the Dangers of Shadow IT

Now that you understand the potential dangers of Shadow IT, how do you stop it from creeping into your organization? That requires a comprehensive strategy that combines technological solutions, policy development, and employee education. Your internal IT team or your MSP can guide your nonprofit through this process by taking the following steps:

  1. Risk Assessment and Audits: Conduct thorough risk assessments and audits to identify the use of Shadow IT. This involves evaluating the tools and applications used by employees and assessing their compliance with security and regulatory standards.
  2. Policy Development: Your IT team should collaborate with organizational stakeholders to develop clear and enforceable IT policies that outline the acceptable use of technology. These policies should address data security, regulatory compliance, and collaboration guidelines, providing a framework for responsible IT usage.
  3. Education and Training: The best defense is educating employees about the dangers of Shadow IT and training them on the importance of adhering to IT policies. This includes educating employees on the potential risks associated with using unauthorized tools and promoting a culture of responsible technology use.
  4. Unified IT Solutions: Your IT team should implement unified IT solutions that cater to the diverse needs of each department while ensuring security and compliance. This involves using collaboration tools, communication platforms, and file-sharing solutions that work for employees and are approved by the IT department.
  5. Continuous Monitoring: Your IT team should establish continuous monitoring mechanisms to detect and respond to the use of Shadow IT in real time. They should also regularly update IT policies and solutions to adapt to evolving technology and emerging security threats.

While it might seem like a simple – and even cost-effective solution – to employees, Shadow IT can pose significant risks to data security, regulatory compliance, and overall IT governance. IT providers play a pivotal role in helping organizations navigate these dangers by implementing proactive strategies, developing robust policies, and fostering a culture of responsible technology use. By addressing the root causes of Shadow IT use and providing comprehensive solutions, your IT service team can create a secure, compliant, and efficient digital environment. Need help implementing these steps? Reach out to us!