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Is Your Tech Stack Helping or Hurting Your Business?

Michael Becker
Michael Becker

A couple of weeks ago, I was playing Jumbo Jenga with a friend outside a local eatery here in town. 

As we set it up — stacking trios of blocks, one group on top of the next — and subsequently picked it apart, piece by piece, until finally watching it collapse and hit the ground, it hit me…

Jenga blocks are kind of like marketing tools.

The tower of blocks, in all its glory, is a lot like a marketing tech stack. The point of the game, of course, is to continue stacking blocks until the whole thing tumbles over. But in order to continue building, you have to choose where to remove a piece from the existing tower. With each new piece added, you weaken the foundation just a little bit, and put the entire stack at risk of falling.

The same thing happens when we add more and more systems, software, tools, and applications to help us do our jobs. This concocted hodgepodge is commonly referred to as a “tech stack.”

But what we have to understand is this: our companies and the tools we’re using to execute our marketing campaigns aren’t wooden blocks like a Jenga set… and the critical impact of a marketing function within a business is no game.

We can ill afford to add the wrong block on top of everything else, and watch everything come crumbling to the ground. The more tools and technologies added to a marketing arsenal (especially when not officially vetted through IT — this phenomenon is called “Shadow IT”), the more susceptible the entire stack (aka, your digital marketing program) is to failure.

Multiple tech tools in and of themselves aren’t an issue. Nonetheless, there’s a widespread epidemic going on in marketing… Shadow IT and its associated risks can’t be ignored any longer.

What is Shadow IT?

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Shadow IT becomes an issue when we (marketing team members) go “behind the backs” of our IT team, or whoever is responsible for vetting, approving, and setting up tech within the business.

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is a term used to describe technology systems and solutions built and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval. This may sound complex, but it includes any and all software, tools, widgets, or tech that is brought into the organization without being vetted by IT.

It’s a common thing, too. On average, large enterprises use 1,200+ cloud services – and more than 98% of them are Shadow IT. Most of the apps we commonly download on our laptops are scheduling, messaging, storage, communication, productivity, and process-related.

Large enterprises use 1,200+ cloud services, and more than 98% are Shadow IT      CLICK TO TWEET

Pro Tip: These aren’t “bad” tools. In fact, they are typically safe and secure. Remember that even widely recognized software and platforms can be Shadow IT. The problem does not lie in the tech, itself, but instead in the lack of involvement by IT. If they don’t know that these or any other tech is being brought into the organization, they can’t manage or monitor it for potential risks. Any new piece of technology, however small, should be approved by IT.

The race to acquire marketing tech to help manage and use all the data spawned a mad rush to acquire any and every piece of tech that could help us go to market quicker. Indeed, the martech landscape has absolutely exploded over the last half-decade.

Some marketers look at the martech landscape and seek to use as many of these tools as they think they can or should. Source

While many IT approval processes take time, marketers were (and continue to be) anxious for solutions today — whether they have official approval from IT and their superiors or not. This leads to Shadow IT.

There’s a grand misconception, too, among CIOs and organizational leaders about Shadow IT:

  • 80% of employees admit to using unvetted software at work.
  • 83% of IT staff admit to using unsanctioned software.
  • Only 8% of enterprises say they understand just how much Shadow IT is being used within their company.

So, why does Shadow IT matter, and what’s the big deal with it anyway?

The Problem with Too Many Tools

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In and of themselves, various tools and software that supplement our lives, our jobs, or our daily routines aren’t bad things.

There’s a purpose for each appliance in my kitchen, and every tool in my garage. There’s value and utility in every app on my iPhone. At work, there’s a reason I use Google’s apps to collaborate, a separate project management tool to organize, and yet another for website popups and forms.

These are all pretty menial examples. But extrapolate the concept to an enterprise marketing org, and suddenly you have multiple teams, tasks, data, and information potentially floating around in multiple unsanctioned places.

Somewhere along the line, multiple tech tools have become a badge of honor for marketers where it more accurately should be cause for concern.

More marketers have fallen prey to this idea that the more tech you have, the better off you’ll be. We’ve somehow started down a dangerous path where we’re trying to find and use as many of the thousands of potential martech tools as possible.

Just last year, 80% of marketing executives added between 1 and 5 new technologies to their marketing stack, and, on average, marketers use between 6 and 10 different tools to manage campaigns and data.

Source: Conductor

Marketers use an avg of 6-10 different tools to manage #campaigns & #data      CLICK TO TWEET

Implementation of multiple point solutions — specialized pieces of software from niche vendors — for each area of a company’s digital marketing efforts is becoming more rampant, and introduces multiple cybersecurity risk factors that make it downright dangerous.

Many tech tools introduce inefficiencies

More pieces of tech, however minor, means more time spent managing it.

Next to data, time is our most valuable resource — and having to be an all-in-one tech integration manager, data facilitator, or tech tool organizer takes away from time you can and should be spending on creative, strategic projects.

Think about it… how many platforms do you have to be fluent in to do your job?

82% of sales and marketing professionals lose up to an hour a day switching between marketing tools. Ask yourself, honestly:

  • Are you spending too much time navigating various systems instead of actually doing what you want to be doing?
  • How might your level of productivity and efficiency change without having to jump from tool to tool and track what you’re working on?
  • How many places are you currently documenting your progress or status of projects?

The more tech, the more costly

While each app may be affordable on its own, when the total cost of these ballooned tech stacks are calculated, it’s often far more than you might think.

70% of marketers believe the marketing tools they have to use include some redundancies, which is another needless cost. For example, if you could find one tool that does the work of nine pieces of your tech stack, you’ll save a substantial amount of budget.

A multitude of software installs puts your organization at risk

Even seemingly meaningless app downloads introduce a level of risk that many marketers haven’t realized yet. Tech stacks and Shadow IT pose serious security risks like:

► Cyber attacks. According to Gartner, by 2020, one-third of successful cyberattacks against enterprises will be achieved through Shadow IT applications.

► Data breaches. A data breach costs a typical enterprise around $3.8 million.

We need a collective mind-shift, one that transforms how we look at tech implementation and takes us from an “expansion” mindset to one of “consolidation.” It’s time to get back to basics.

Shadow IT and Tech Overdose: 3 Ways to Reverse a Common Trends

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Shadow IT is actually a pretty serious thing that we should all start to think about. How can we cut, where can we synchronize redundancies, and how can we eliminate unneeded tools?

There are a few steps you can take to get started.

① Self-audit your tech stack

How many problems are all your systems actually solving? What could you do without?

② Have an open discussion with your team about what’s absolutely mission-critical

This isn’t about catching policy breakers; have an honest discussion about tools your team has found and are using, and then determine, as a unit, what’s necessary and what’s not.

③ Partner with IT

Build your relationship with IT in order to establiosh a streamlined process that should ultimately eliminate the desire of your marketing team to even want to look for, seek out, or install any Shadow IT tools.

At the end of the day, revamping and consolidating our tech stacks into only the most critical pieces will help in so many ways, including, most importantly, securing customer data and better serving customers. Ultimately, the best option is one that unifies and centralizes everything we really need — a single platform.

Like an indestructible, steady skyscraper (definitely not a Jenga tower of unpredictable pieces), the beauty of a unified marketing platform in lieu of a bunch of thrown-together tools is clear.

Why wouldn’t we want to simplify the amalgamations we’ve created? With the abundant risks associated with Shadow IT, it makes too much sense to ignore any longer. ◾

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About the Author


Michael Becker is the Digital Content Manager at Emarsys where he manages the enterprise editorial strategy and content marketing program. Michael has developed thriving content programs with three SaaS companies in Indianapolis and is a published author on Forbes, Elite Daily, Jeff Bullas’ blog, and more. He is a proud alumni of Butler University.

Connect with Michael: LinkedIn@mjbecker_