The read/write enterprise isn't just about using social media in the enterprise - increasingly, it's about employees actively choosing the technologies they use to get their jobs done instead of relying on decrees from on high about what sorts of technology to use. The term "Shadow IT" refers to "IT systems and IT solutions built and used inside organizations without organizational approval." In the past few years, it's gone from being cosidered a problem to being consider something to be embraced and learned from. Thanks to SaaS, entire companies have been built on Shadow IT decisions.

Salesforce.com got its start selling to sales departments who needed a solution that IT wasn't having success providing. Now its a major player in enterprise. Here are five companies that are thriving in the shadows at enterprises large and small.

Yammer

Yammer announced last week that it's expanding from its narrow focus on microblogging into general enterprise social networking. That will bring the company into even deeper competition with established players like Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce.com and Jive.

David Sacks, CEO of Yammer, talked up the technology behind Yammer in a phone interview, but we think the company's real differentiator is its freemium business model. Employees are signing up to use Yammer independent of IT and management, and that lets end users try the product before a purchasing decision is made.

"The freemium model is absolutely key to what we're doing," says Sacks. "When employees are given a choice of what to use, they are going to choose the product that is easiest to use, not necessarily the company that has the biggest sales team. We're not afraid to let customers use the software first."

Sacks is quick to point out that the company does work closely with IT once a company develops an interest in Yammer. "IT is usually the buyer, we do spend a lot of time with IT making sure they're comfortable with the security and so on, but it's employees that are driving it."

Huddle

Huddle, a SaaS project management and document collaboration solution (see our previous coverage), has landed large enterprise customers like Proctor and Gamble through shadow IT. "We generally don't sell directly to IT," says Huddle co-founder Andy McLoughlin. Instead, Huddle will sell directly to business users unsatisfied with what their IT department are offering them. "IT generally gives these companies or organizations some big system like Sharepoint that is too complex or not flexible enough for their needs."

Another driving factor, McLoughlin notes is the need for external collaboration. Increasingly, employees are finding a need to work with people outside of their own companies and internally facing tools aren't adequate for their needs.

McLoughlin says that although Huddle has occasionally been blocked because it's been mistaken for a file sharing service or social network, the company hasn't had much trouble with IT. "Push back has been decreasing over the past two or three years," he says. He notes Proctor and Gamble has a policy of allowing its employees to use whatever tools they need to get their jobs done.

SurveyMonkey

SurveyMonkey has proven that simple, single use tools can be extremely successful in the enterprise. SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg told us the company has 100% of the Fortune 100 and over 95 percent of the Fortune 500 as customers, but all of them signed up individually. "We don't do group sales or work with purchasing or IT departments- we don't have any sales people. So for us, this isn't a trend, it is our whole business."

UserVoice

We mentioned in our article on trends in idea management that UserVoice CEO Richard Whitemore has been seeing more enterprises using UserVoice as an internal tool instead of an externally facing one. Whitemore says this has been driven by largely by Shadow IT - business units are frequently unhappy with the larger idea management packages installed by IT or included as part of another system, and just want to quickly gather ideas from staff.

Google

Forrester has described information workers as Google's "trojan horse" into the enterprise, noting 39% have used tools such as Google Docs in the workplace. Google Apps adoption will likely be driven not by IT management, but by the rank and file who will want to use familiar technologies like Gmail and Google Docs.

Photo by
Hamed Parham