I’ve heard this called various things over the years but in a nutshell it is the proliferation of important IT capabilities within and across an organization but outside of the remit and control of the real IT department (substitute IT for whatever it is called in your organization – IS, TS, Technology Division, etc).
More often than not undercover IT (or private IT) is borne out of necessity – the need to “just get it done” while waiting for corporate IT to catch up (if corporate IT were actually engaged at all). Additionally, it may be because of the widespread availability of good IT skills (complimentary to someone’s core skills) across an organization (“hey, I can do that!”). Sometimes undercover IT is formally adopted by head’s of department – a dedicated “R&D” IT team or a dedicated “Mobile” IT team for example – usually because of the (real or perceived) niche skills and technology required.
Whatever the reason these subterfuge IT groups crop up, the question is, are they good or bad for an organization.
Well, over the years I’ve seen them viewed as bad by the “larger” corporates – something that the IT leadership view as disruptive to the business, “problems” that need to be “solved” (and the solutions often involve structural changes to teams, personnel or to the whole organization).
I’ve also seen these covert IT operations viewed as good, particularly within start-up’s, or within larger business embracing the “start-up” (or disruptive) mentality. These types of business also tend to view IT “silos” as a bad thing, and any process as a blocking process. A usual pre-requisite of working in these kind of teams is some minimum level of detailed IT expertise (“vagrant up?”) and an appetite to learn more.
Is undercover IT inevitable? I think it is. In those organizations cracking down on such practices there is usually on-going IT-related “insurgency” which means it is impossible to totally eradicate. But why even bother? Generation Z, as and when they enter the workplace, will have IT skills on-par with (if not more than) the Generation X CTO’s of old, and the need for separate, dedicated, IT divisions will look increasingly anachronistic. IT skills, and detailed (and I mean detailed) IT skills at that, will be the norm for modern workers alongside other “core” skills – language, mathematics and good old common sense.