Shadow IT & Shadow GIS

There are two meanings here:

  1. You might be building your GIS as Shadow IT, know the pitfalls and realities.
  2. Beware your GIS 'clients' may be building Shadow GIS underneath you. 

Shadow IT

Is a real thing. It's talked about at conferences and even has a Wikipedia page. Essentially, it is when 'unofficial' tech infrastructure is built in parallel to the official IT department; sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not. GIS could exist as a Shadow IT in both positive and negative way.

Here is a likely (Local Government) Scenario; Your I.T. department is short-staffed and under funded. Good people, just not enough of them. You as a GIS Department head have funding to hire an outside consultant to come in and set up a small webserver and teach your staff how to maintain an ArcGIS website. Now you have a GIS website that your staff updates and maintains, project closed. This deployment is known and encouraged by the short-staffed IT and they are thankful for a good GIS Consultant to get it done correctly. This is best possible scenario and least invasive.

Mordac. The Preventer of IS

More nefarious is the unsanctioned secret project or the "Shhh! Don't tell I.T." collaboration. I avoid this. In fact, I have not met an IT department that I cannot work with. Our projects never get to that point.  

When building Your GIS project it is IMPERATIVE to involve your IT/IS/Programming/CIS/DP Department. I always ask "How's your relationship with IT?"  If it's not good, that's a warning flag. I can't understate the importance of a positive relationship with the tech guys.  If IT wants to torpedo your project, they can and might.  

"-But you don't understand My IT Department" Sure we do. 
"-But it's so much easier without them" At least in your mind
"-But they don't understand GIS" Give them a chance, Again. 

.:To Be Clear:.

In the past, I have been the consultant brought in because the IT department is understaffed, non-existent and/or underfunded. (This is a reality in Local Government)  Each time, I talk with and work with my client's IT, whether on staff or contracted. To make sure they know who we are, what we are doing, and that we know what we are doing.  It is very possible these overworked IT Professionals will be the ones patching your server, installing virus protection and creating an Active Directory  group of users for you. While we are creating a kind of Shadow IT out of GIS, a positive relationship with your IT Department is part of its success. 


Most of the time, IT is involved as much as their schedules allow. Once credit is established with a primary meeting, many times they give their blessing to a project and allow carte-blanche. I have no desire to ruin servers, steal data or install bloatware. They are just doing their job. Like a traffic officer giving you a ticket for a non-functioning license plate light (random hypothetical example). After winning them over, often I hear something like this from 'Difficult' IT guys: "I'm Sorry, it's not you, it's just we get blamed for everything here".  A simple smile and thank-you will go a long way.

Shadow GIS

It's also very important to keep this in mind. YOU could be the one that people are trying to avoid.

Company's GIS Guy

GIS is becoming ubitiquous and easy to do. Yup, there it is. GIS is becoming easy (there's another future blog post). So much so that other department heads can purchase an ArcGIS Online subscription & have a online GIS presence within an week. I've seen it happen, all to avoid the 'difficult' GIS person. 

Now, I know this might be a shock, but sometimes... there is a rare occasion... that you as a GIS professional... might be perceived... however incorrectly... as a nerd. Lets face it: projections, accuracy, databases, filetypes, layers, these are nerdy things we do. In this nerdy-ness be aware that non-GISers might find it difficult to relate to you. 

Most of the time, just knowing this will diffuse the issue and keep everyone under the same GIS umbrella. If not there are a few things you can do to continue to support an uncovered Shadow GIS operation and possibly bring the wayward department back into the fold:

  1. Smile. I have to remind myself of this All. The. Time. 
  2. Help. Condemning the action will not be effective. 
  3. Integrate. If something is done already work with them. 
  4. Congratulate. Everyone likes a pat on the back. 

Finding out about a operational Shadow GIS after the fact or during the setup can take a toll on your pride. Don't automatically assume it is because of you. There may be bad history or bad blood between higher-ups. You as a professional should act like one. Always give a pathway back to your Enterprise GIS. Never-ever hope for failure.

Good Luck! 

If you have questions, Drop US a line. 

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