Legitimise IT

Creating an approach to utilising shadow IT for manufacturing small and medium-sized enterprises

The aim of the Legitimise IT research project is to help SMEs in the manufacturing industry to use and legitimise beneficial shadow IT in a controlled manner while taking existing risks into account.


The uncontrolled use of shadow IT in the company gives rise to numerous risks. For example, the extraction of data from the ERP system and the processing in independent shadow IT applications can lead to an incomprehensible cost calculation. The calculation also depends on the experience of the respective sales employee. This can lead to incorrect calculations and thus to increased costs for the manufacturing company. Additional risks associated with shadow IT:

  • Decentralised data storage in the company can lead to current information being overwritten with old information. Incomplete or outdated data records are the result, which might become the basis for incorrect decisions.
  • External data storage and processing via cloud platforms results in employees being inept in terms of how to handle data. The focus is on functionality, and the requirements for integration and security have a low priority.
  • The low priority of integration and security requirements increases the likelihood of violations of the General Data Protection Regulation.

These risks are offset by the benefits of controlled use of shadow IT in the company. For example, the business-wide use of a shadow IT application can enable an experienced internal sales representative to calculate installation costs efficiently and more accurately. In addition to such an increase in the efficiency of operational processes, there are other benefits:

  • Increase in motivation of employees in the specialist departments due to the availability of practicable solutions.
  • Increased flexibility when the need for time-consuming coordination with the IT department falls away.
  • Improved promotion of innovation by customising the design of IT solutions according to departmental needs.

It is clear from the above that shadow IT comes with both risks and benefits. The challenge for companies is to find a balance between benefits and risks when using shadow IT.


Approaches to dealing with shadow IT already exist. However, there is still no procedure adapted to SMEs that allows shadow IT to be used while taking its risks into account. This research project focuses on the conception of an intermediary.

Methodologically described approaches to using shadow IT are not available to SMEs, which inhibits their target-oriented use. This is the basis for the working hypothesis of the Legitimise IT research project:

The research project enables SMEs in the manufacturing sector to systematically evaluate the benefits and risks of shadow IT and to use it profitably.

The research objective is to demonstrate the extent to which SMEs can use shadow IT through controlled legitimisation, including the following sub-goals (TZ):

  • 1: Development of an SME-suitable methodology to identify shadow IT;
  • 2: Identification of beneficial aspects and risks arising from shadow IT;
  • 3: Development of methods to quantify the identified benefits and risks;
  • 4: Development and identification of solution approaches taking into account MTO (make-to-order) perspectives;
  • 5: Deduction of a holistic approach that can be validated and designed in a company-specific manner;
  • 6: Measurement of the developed approach with regard to the financial variables and other factors that are essential to the company's success.

Expected result

The expected result is a procedural method for the controlled use of shadow IT in manufacturing SMEs.

Benefits for the target group

The results of the research project will enable SMEs in the manufacturing industry to systematically evaluate and quantify the benefits and risks of shadow IT and to use it profitably.

Cooperation partner: Institute for Industrial Management FIR at RWTH Aachen University

Sponsor: The IGF project 05339/19 N of the Institute for Industrial Management FIR at RWTH Aachen University is funded through the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF) via the programme to promote joint industrial research (IGF) of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) based on a decision by the German Bundestag.

Project period: June 2020 - May 2022