Bringing shadow IT out of the shadows and into the light

As businesses, we all have a need to get things done; to deliver a service, to manufacture goods, to achieve whatever delivers on our raison d’etre. As such, each business needs a set of well-structured and efficient systems and processes that help operational teams to do their jobs, right?

But, in a demanding business environment, what happens when those systems and processes fail to keep pace with the needs of each team?


Typically, this is where the IT department builds up a backlog while they search for a new solution, and the business teams naturally start to find their own workarounds.

This is an inevitability. It’s driven by necessity more than a burning inclination toward mutiny!

So what does shadow IT look like? How do you recognise it?

The ‘shadow’ label, by definition, means we’re dealing with behaviours and initiatives that may be hard to spot, especially if one is somewhat removed from the team in question; but typical examples might include…

  • circumventing existing systems, reverting to email and spreadsheets instead

  • introducing new collaboration tools such as Slack or Hangout, without central approval

  • adopting a new, lightweight project management platform, such as Basecamp or Trello, again, without approval

  • connecting systems together, using workflow automation tools such as Zapier

  • signing up to multiple services from one month to the next; doing their own haphazard IT research and development.

As you can see from these examples, very often people know enough to roll up their sleeves and put together some sort of solution, and often their workarounds are effective and inventive. These well-intentioned proponents of the so-called ‘shadow IT’ department have the honourable goal of getting their jobs done and moving things forward, when nobody else is able to help.

…and what’s wrong with that?

Well, ultimately, these short-term workarounds do come at a price and something important will be compromised, knowingly or otherwise. You cannot rely on serendipity to achieve the requisite levels of compliance, security or cohesion.

Typically, the downsides might be…

  • the ‘real’ IT department will lose track of what applications are in use by the business

  • the business will lose track of where its data is

  • security will get compromised (dare we even write ‘gee-dee-pee-are’?)

  • multiple people or sub-teams will simultaneously be attempting to carve their own solutions, creating further inefficiency

  • frustrations will bubble to the surface and manifest, one way or another, into something ugly or catastrophic.

So, what are the solutions?

If IT departments and CTOs are genuinely searching for the right digital solutions to support business processes, it will necessarily take time.

In our view, one very compelling solution is to bring shadow IT out of the shadows and into the light, by equipping all business teams with a platform to build their own tools, within a legitimate, transparent and controlled environment. Like a sandpit, but where the solutions can quickly become real, working applications.

What you then have, is an empowered army of legitimised ‘citizen developers’, rather than a subversive shadow IT department working against you.

This is effectively what Podio (by Citrix) gives you. It’s a platform whereby any team can create its own workspaces, apps and solutions, but within a unified environment. Therefore, empowered business users never need to go wildly off-track, espousing entirely separate systems (thereby putting company data in places it shouldn’t be).

Also, because it has a consistent and predetermined interface, the focus is on getting the right structure and workflows in place, rather than tinkering too much with layout, styling or colours. Furthermore, any app can be connected to any other app in any other workspace. So, when you do need to consolidate, join or centralise data, it’s easy to do so.

Of course, no enterprise really wants a boundless free-for-all, so proper governance and guidelines should be introduced as you see fit. But, in principle, providing the platform to empower citizen developers with access to low code (or mostly no code) custom applications, is a smart move. ‘Freedom within a framework’ would sum it up.

And remember, if you or any of your teams get stuck, cost-effective help is available!

How we use Podio and why we'd be lost without it!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that we are long-term champions of Podio.

At Oval, we’ve been using it for almost seven years, and couldn’t be without it!

So, we thought it would be a nice idea to back up our claims, justify our singing-its-praises, and maybe give you some ideas of how you can use a collaboration platform, in ways that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before. A real life, this-is-how-we-do-it case study.




We use Podio for projects before they even become projects. From initial enquiry, right up until practical completion, every stage is tracked. From collating proposal material, creating/tracking sprints for development, and invoicing status to task allocation, CRM, and associated file storage. We communicate on projects and their stages within the relevant comment stream, ridding ourselves of hideously long email trails. Ditto with documentation; we attach it all to the project item. In both these last two cases, the result is the knowledge that we are looking at comments in the order in which they were received, and the latest version of documentation.

This is particularly key for those projects where documents are constantly being updated; nobody wants to work off something which they then realise – far too late – has been superseded!!


Because Podio offers you the ability to build apps, and link them together via relationship fields if you want to, you can create a CRM system that works exactly as you need it to. In our case, we hold all information in one app, and use relationship fields to link to relevant projects/enquiries if appropriate. There’s a super simple export function if you want to pull out data for manipulation (in Excel, for example), and an email address associated with each record (enabling you to ‘email to item’).


Whether it’s collating menu choices from the team for the Christmas party, or a ridiculous meme that we have to share, Podio is the quickest way to get in front of everyone. We have workspaces for projects and areas of work, but we also have one that’s dedicated to hanging out – virtually – with our teammates. We share recipes and favourite films, and we also use it as a place to high-five each other if someone has achieved something amazing! With a team that’s spread across multiple locations, it’s a simple way to stay in touch.


Arguably, this could be absorbed into any of the previous points, but it is such a standout feature for us, that we think it deserves its own mention. There is nothing worse – certainly as an organiser, facilitator, or project manager – than sending out a document for review by others, to then be on the receiving end of several, distinct, new versions. Are you looking at the latest version? Have you incorporated all changes? How many people have or have not had a chance to review it yet? Who made these changes again??!!
The wonder of Podio – particularly when used in conjunction with a service such as GoogleDocs, which updates and saves in progress – is the ability to track every single ‘movement’. So that covers when an attachment/document was last added or updated, and who instigated it; the life of that attachment is documented forever.


We interact with clients via Podio in a variety of ways, but primarily using workspaces or helpdesk forms.

Workspaces: occasionally, we will create a specific project workspace within Oval’s Podio organisation set-up, and give access to external members, ie the client. This enables us to conduct conversations about timelines, features, sprints etc within Podio directly, rather than via email (which can result in a full-to-bursting inbox, and lack of clarity over who said what and when). It also means that we can store project-specific attachments, against the relevant items in the relevant apps, and everyone knows they’re viewing the most up-to-date information.

Helpdesk: For those projects which require support by both clients and other end-users, we create helpdesk apps within workspaces. By creating a Podio webform with its own URL, users can get in touch with us outlining their details, with the form then creating an item within the relevant app. This is perfect for giving all members of the development team visibility of issues, ensuring we can respond to queries as quickly as possible, and reducing ‘silo-ing’.

So, having read a little about how we use Podio, and you think you’d like to explore the idea of a collaboration system (while we’ve mentioned Podio, we also have experience in other, similar platforms), then just give us a shout for a totally-informal-with-no-obligation chat; we’re here to help!

Card layout for agile project management

Not every Podio update is really big news, but with the recently released card layout, I believe, we have something new and noteworthy at our disposal.

Essentially, Podio card layout has ‘acquired’ much more of the versatility of a dedicated kanban-influenced application (like Trello, for example). Furthermore, Podio's powerful view configuration and filtering tools make for a significant level of flexibility, when combined with the new changes.

This is important, as it has a positive and material effect on one's ability to manage agile projects in Podio, with the support of easy-to-use visual tools.

Card layout features drag and drop, configurable field display and category colours.

Card layout features drag and drop, configurable field display and category colours.

Although card layout has existed in Podio for a while, it was hamstrung by a limited field display, showing only the first form field on the card, and it also had no colour coding. It’s now a significantly better beast!

Here are some example scenarios describing how it can be used to organise projects. These examples refer to - but are not limited to - the kinds of 'Features' or 'Product Backlog' apps that are typically used to track agile projects.

Organising sprints

Organise features into sprints, by dragging and dropping them into sprint columns. This setup requires a Features app with a category or relationship field for sprints.

Suggested configuration...

  • Columns: Sprint Name/Number
  • Rows: Optional/as required

Tracking status

Track and set the development status by viewing, dragging and dropping features into status columns. This setup requires a Features app with a 'Status' field (eg ‘Not started’, ‘In progress’, ‘On hold’, ‘Complete’); preferably colour coded.

Suggested configuration...

  • Columns: Status
  • Rows: Optional, but can work well with Project Phase (‘Phase 1’; ‘Phase 2’)

Resource allocation

Sharing out work amongst the team by dragging/dropping features into columns. This setup requires a Features app with a 'Lead Developer' field (contact or relationship field).

Suggested configuration...

  • Columns: Lead Developer
  • Rows: Effort Estimate (with Fibonacci sequence; useful visual check, to ensure features are shared by size).

No doubt you can think of plenty more useful scenarios, and the usefulness of card layout is not, of course, limited to product development or project management.

Here are some other important tips…

  1. Hit the F key in card layout. There's a much cleaner feel in full-screen layout.
  2. Use the screwdriver/wrench icon at the top of the view to tweak the columns.
  3. Setting a field to separate the rows adds a useful layer - eg status across the top, project phase or developer as the row.
  4. Save your own views or share them with the team.
  5. If you’re an admin, to configure which fields actually display on your cards, use the wrench icon in the left-hand panel.