It’s great when employees take the initiative to find innovative solutions to everyday problems. But when those solutions involve shadow IT, it can risk the security of an entire company network.

Shadow IT refers to software or apps that are built internally or downloaded from the internet without approval from the IT department. It might be a budget tracking app that Tom in accounting downloaded to get his job done faster. While you may applaud his ambition, this kind of behavior can be a dangerous liability.

Why is Shadow IT so Bad?

The three main ways that shadow IT is problematic for construction firms are:

1. Uncontrolled data flows

Whenever a piece of software is added into your company workflow without being properly integrated, a siloed database is created. Any information that’s stored in that app won’t flow into other company applications or software. If a construction project manager wants to access budget information, for example, they won’t have access to an accountant’s budget tracking app to gather the data. And if this budget app has data that’s duplicated in another software application, how will Tom and others know which set is the most up-to-date?

2. Basic consumer-grade security

More often than not, shadow IT consists of inexpensive or free applications that are quick and easy to download. This means they’re built with consumer-level security and lack the protections that large networks need. Without high-level security, downloading these applications can introduce harmful viruses like malware that can steal your data and cause a lot of damage to your system.

3. Third-party applications

Some shadow IT can also be a third party app that gains access to your network through approved applications. For example, an employee may authorize a third-party app for managing social media through their Facebook or Twitter accounts. This may seem insignificant, but giving software vendors access to your company network creates added risk. After all, if a hacker targets that third-party vendor, they’ll have access to your network too.

An Ounce of Prevention

The reason that shadow IT gets introduced into construction company networks is because employees don’t have the proper technology to complete their jobs efficiently. There might be a gap in their workflow where they don’t have the proper tool for completing a specific task. Perhaps a lot of their processes are manual and they’re looking for a way to automate their work. Or they could be working with outdated technology and are tired of waiting for executives to introduce a new solution.

In any case, the best way to prevent employees from turning to shadow IT is to provide them with the right tools. When construction firms invest in robust, ERP systems, their employees have access to a large suite of tools with functions developed specifically for the industry. Rather than making do with generic systems for their daily tasks, employees get tailored solutions that address their exact needs.

With unified construction software, data integrity is also maintained. Even when you enter data into different applications within the ERP system, it’s all stored in one database. This eliminates duplicate data entry, improves data accuracy and gives all team members access to real-time project information.

Listen to your employees and understand the issues they’re having with daily tasks. If you can identify the areas that are causing your team frustration, you can find them a powerful software solution before they start installing their own programs.

Getting Rid of Shadow IT

If you already have shadow IT within your organization, don’t panic. There are several ways to identify shadow IT so that you can replace it with IT-approved construction software.

1. Educate your workforce

Remember that your employees aren’t out to get you. As Ryan Francis from CIO magazine explains, “They view these services as safe, reliable ways to make their jobs more effective, and it doesn’t even occur to them that there is a good reason to involve the IT department in their decisions.”

Talk to your employees and explain the risks of unauthorized shadow applications. And while you’re at it, tell them you’re working hard to give them all the tools they need. This will show them that you don’t take their concerns lightly.

By using education instead of scare tactics, you’ll also have an easier time identifying where all the shadow IT is living.  Employees are more likely to speak up if they know their actions are affecting security and feel comfortable coming forward.

2. Use shadow IT to learn more about your employees

Once you’ve identified shadow IT, create an inventory of all the pain points these individual apps address. This will give you a full picture of the gaps in your current IT solutions. It might also be helpful to interview individual employees about why they chose an app and what they like about it. Quite often, there’s an element within the user experience of an app that has drawn the employee in. By learning the subtleties of how employees interact with their favourite pieces of technology, you’ll know what to look for when sourcing company-wide construction software.

3. Turn shadow IT installers into tech evangelists

Employees installing shadow IT are looking for ways to increase productivity. This is a good thing, so use it to your benefit. Rather than punishing employees for installing software without approval, show appreciation for their initiative. If you can keep these employees invested in developing new technology solutions, they’ll be a huge asset with your digital transformation. Not only can they help solve pain points, they can also encourage others to embrace new construction technology.

4. Offer the best alternative

Now that you know what your team needs, search for a software platform that will help them be more efficient and productive.  Maybe your project managers are installing their own file sharing programs to improve client relations and on-site collaboration. If this is the case, it’s time to take a second look at your collaboration tools.

Most importantly, choose a system that’s going to streamline your digital workflow, not make it more complicated. Just because you know the apps your employees like doesn’t mean to have to integrate them all into your system. The best way to provide the functionality your team needs, while maintaining strong collaboration and data management, is to choose a powerful unified system.

To learn more about the security threats you should watch out for, check out this infographic with 5 lessons in data security for the construction industry.