They’re wild and they’re rampant!
I previously wrote about shadow IT here. In that article we discuss its prevalence, its danger and how to manage it. I had no idea that Feral Information Systems (FIS) were a thing. Feral cats I had heard of. We actually took in two feral cats. Well, they were kittens outdoors in the cold, with no apparent owner. Who wouldn’t take them in. We took them to the vet and fed them. Over two years later, they’ve learned some manners but remain aloof to their humans. One group that studies these things ranks feral cats as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.
Feral Information Systems
Feral Information Systems are also invasive, as well as persistent and resilient. The definition of FIS is a computerized system developed by one or more employees to assist in performing their business processes. It is often designed to circumvent, workaround or bypass Enterprise mandated systems. According to the same source, “knowledge of FISs remains limited and the theoretical explanations offered for FISs are widely contested.” This lack of understanding is probably due to the pirate-like nature of the FISs. Pirates don’t advertise.
FIS is similar to, but distinct from Shadow IT. Whereas a feral information system is any system that users create to replace the functions of the mandated Enterprise System, shadow IT systems tend to live alongside corporate systems and replicate its functionality. There is some overlap to what is termed “workarounds” which tend to be more informal and temporary processes to handle non-standard cases which the enterprise standard fails to address adequately. All share the motivation that they have been developed to address real or perceived gaps in the system of record.
Why is there a problem?
Why do any of these exist in the first place? Some researchers suggest that FISs may actually be a good thing in that it demonstrates innovation and helps a certain group achieve its business goals. Personally, I’m not so sure. I think what most contributes to the proliferation of FISs is when organizations have structural or cultural strain. In other words, there is something in the organizational culture, processes or technology which squeezes the balloon. When the balloon is squeezed, the air creates a bubble elsewhere. The same is true with technology and data systems. If processes are complicated, if systems are non-intuitive, if data is inaccessible, workers tend to develop workarounds. Processes are simplified. Easier systems are adopted ad hoc. Data is shared covertly.
It may not be possible to eradicate the pandemic of feral information systems. It is important, however, to be aware of them and understand the reasons why they develop. FISs may be an indication of an area of the business that needs to be improved. If the organization addresses systemic or process-related issues of analysts’ difficulties in using mandated tools and accessing data, there may be fewer needs to seek out feral information systems.