Digital robots against shadow IT

4 September 2019

In our daily work we are often confronted with automation requirements of business stakeholders that have to be implemented in the IT environment. Modern, flexible architectures prove to be very helpful. Such architectures are equipped with clearly structured microservices and an efficient data exchange platform. A business process engine is often used to effectively implement automated process execution.

This all sounds great. But the reality is often a bit different. In enterprise environments, business applications are often of different origins and different architectures, making it difficult to integrate functionality, data and processes. Legacy systems complicate the picture. All of these characteristics counteract an efficient implementation of the automation requirements mentioned above. Such projects are usually expensive and take a long time. As a result, companies either face expensive IT automation projects or miss the potential of automation.

Shadow IT avoids cost and time hurdles

Often specialist departments avoid the problems of such IT automation projects. They tend to develop simpler tools themselves that move data, perform calculations or create reports. These tools - typically Visual Basic macros in Excel spreadsheets or Access databases - are often created under the radar of IT departments. This ultimately leads to the creation of a shadow IT infrastructure that is deeply embedded in business processes but not compliant with IT governance. Therefore, it is not managed or supported by the IT department.

The creation of such tools may be quick, but it demands its toll on long-term maintenance: ensuring their functionality, especially after changes in the IT landscape, can become an expensive and time-consuming activity. A small change in an input file can render a modeling tool unusable because it is not designed to accept all types of input. In addition, the person who wrote the code may have left the company in the meantime. Shadow IT tools can even jeopardize strategic initiatives purely because they are "invisible" to other departments, such as IT. Their dependencies can therefore not be taken into account in project planning and design.

So is there an option between shadow IT and large, expensive IT projects? - This is where digital robots come in.

Digital Robots and Shadow IT

Digital robots - machines used in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) - offer a new and flexible way to automate repetitive manual tasks, such as interacting with multiple applications. Similar to traditional shadow IT applications, digital robots attract specialist departments with short deployment times and fast return on investment. They, too, are susceptible to changes in their environment. Digital robots also make the underlying digital assets and IT systems more rigid by acting as an additional layer in the software architecture.

On the other hand, digital robots have a decisive advantage over shadow IT: they are not invisible. A modern digital robotics platform provides managed provisioning and monitoring capabilities for digital robots. Their overall condition and usage behavior are known at all times, operational faults are detected immediately and their maintenance does not tie up any valuable resources of the specialist departments.

How digital robots can help

Companies often find it difficult to reduce the size of their shadow IT. Unfortunately, it is not a real option to completely replace them with modern and robust business applications simply because this would never be economical. However, knowing the advantages and disadvantages of digital robots, we can claim that they could potentially replace, extend and make a significant part of shadow IT IT compliant. They would need to be brought to a managed digital robotics platform.

To achieve this, it is important to build a small team or competence center to take responsibility for the development, operation and maintenance of the digital robotics platform. This unit will be able to rapidly transform shadow IT tools into managed robots, reduce risks and additional maintenance costs through shadow IT, and thus create sustainable value for the entire enterprise.

In our next blog post, we will highlight the promises of the RPA tool providers and confront them with a reality check.