Social Learning and Shadow IT


I’m currently facilitating a Social and Collaborative Learning Essentials (SCLE) course.  This course is offered through the Australian Institute of Training and Development.  It runs in a virtual environment over eight weeks.  This week I’ve refreshed the curated content used in the course.

One person whose work I always check on when I’m refreshing this course is Julian Stodd*.  I find Julian Stodd’s research, thinking and practice around Social Leadership both insightful and practical.  I also appreciate his philosophy that all his work is imperfect and is continually evolving.

Source: https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/the-invisible-organisation-why-social-leadership/

In a recent series of Training Journal podcast interviews Julian spoke about power, trust and the social age.  I added Part 2 to the SCLE resources.  I was especially interested in Julian’s research on high value communities (of practice) in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.  Amongst his findings are that:

  • their most valuable communities are informal ones, not ones ‘given to them’ by the organisation
  • top communities are ones they were invited into – someone reached out to them to join the conversation
  • the primary focus of these communities are ‘conversations of improvement”
  • most important thing is ‘choreography of engagement’, the way people are welcomed into the community

The group studied use 17 different technologies to interact on a daily basis, of which 16 are not controlled by the NHS – they are ‘shadow IT.’  If organisations want to leverage the power of social learning they need to move beyond an environment of control.  This includes controlling the technologies being used to enable conversation and community.

If you do an internet search on the term ‘shadow IT’ you will find a lot of articles talking about how the IT department can regain control of the tools and platforms being used.  This is not especially useful to people in the organisation who are turning to tools that help them to get the job done, improve productivity and cut through red tape.

My curiosity was recently piqued by a white paper from Cognizant on 21 Jobs of the Future.  These are jobs that are envisaged to be required within the next 10 years.   One of these is ‘Bring Your Own IT Facilitator.’  The purpose of this role is to ‘fuse shadow-IT operations with digital workplace strategy.’  In describing this role Cognizant commented:

“We see the growth of shadow-IT as an immense opportunity for IT to collaborate with business units and individuals who have mastered the art of working without IT.”

While acknowledging the valid concerns that shadow-IT raises (just Google it) I find this a much more positive and useful perspective.  Shadow IT is here to stay.  People are finding value in using all sorts of consumer tools and platforms, as evidenced in the social learning sphere by Julian’s research.  If we are going to support people to engage in high value conversations let’s shine a light in the shadows (but not too brightly lest we kill the conversation) and embrace shadow-IT.

* Confession – I have a social learning crush on Julian Stodd.  Just look at the language he uses to talk about social interaction – ‘choreography of engagement’ is a beautiful phrase.

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