Origin is one of the biggest energy providers in Australia. Like many other large organisations, it can be bogged down by bureaucracy and inflexibility. But that didn't stop one employee from conducting 'black ops' projects that would contribute to the development of new products and capabilities.
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James Moor is the group manager for market risk at Origin Energy and he admits that he's not an IT guy. His background is in engineering and finance. What Moor does know is data and he was keen to find a better way for Origin Energy to deliver gas to customers. Origin had a wealth of data on its customer's energy usage and he knew data analytics had the potential to bring business insights that could help develop new commercial offerings.
Moor wanted to use AWS public cloud service to run a few data analytics test projects. Unfortunately, at the time, AWS was not an authorised IT provider for Origin Energy.
He could have scoped out the IT requirements and the cost, put it all in a neat proposal for approval for his data analytics experiments, but he didn't fancy going through that cumbersome process just so he can run a few tests.
Without funding and without the blessing of Origin's IT department, Moor decided to take matters into his own hands. He went ahead and procured AWS services with a suite of data analytics tools and billed it on his corporate credit card. It was a clandestine affair for Moor and his small team. [Update: Origin has confirmed that only dummy data was used. The team did not use customer data.]
Speaking at AWS Summit 2016 in Sydney, Moor recounted the time when access to AWS was blocked on the corporate network so he continued his data analytics in the cloud test project using the free WiFi across the road from Origin's office before moving on to another way to get an internet connection.
"We did graduate to something more sensible; a wireless dongle from Officeworks," he said.
Moor's team continued to experiment with data analytics on AWS to create fast proof-of-concepts for offerings that benefited from the insights that were being generated. Origin have since ran around six data analytics project on AWS internally.
Shadow IT is generally frowned upon by organisations but one of the major reason it exists is because IT departments are unable to satisfy the needs of employees. Larger companies also tend to have cumbersome approval processes even for small projects which can be a drag when you're trying to be agile and stay ahead of the competition.
Moor does believe that bigger projects should be scoped out properly and go through the proper procedures within an organisation but thinks there's no harm in running a few small projects on the side, especially when it's in the cloud. You may not even know what the end goal for that project is before you start, but the whole idea is to build a culture of experimentation and innovation by providing easily accessible tools and resources for staff to try new things.
"The thing is, in the cloud you can fail fast and fail cheaply," he said at an AWS Summit media panel. "When you can do things so cheap, quick and easy, you don't have to bother with the vision. You can just jump in and try.
"Sure you can go through the traditional IT mechanisms, put together a scoping document and run through the costs and explain what you want to achieve from a small project, but I'm going to stick it in the cloud and see what happens first.
"... You can't know what you're trying to do before you've done it."
What are your thoughts on Moor's attitude towards Shadow IT? Let us know in the comments.