The purpose of the University of Sheffield Pressbooks initiative is to provide a platform for academic staff to write text books for undergraduate and graduate students that can be published under an Open licence. This book is written as a text book for information science, computer science and business studies students. It is not specifically written for IT managers but I hope that they might find the subject, and the significant amount of research that has been published, of interest. IT managers can skip the chapters on enterprise application implementation (Chapter 3) and digital workplaces (Chapter 10); these chapters are included to provide context for students with little or no experience of the challenges of IT implementation projects!

Because it is written as a text book there are over 150 citations to the research literature. However the book is not intended to be either a critical or systematic review of the literature, which probably extends to well over 1000 papers. I have summarised some of the outcomes of the research but not assessed its value or compared the results across a range of papers. My objective was to provide students with some starting points for research into the topics covered by the book. A feature of this book is that research papers and theses with substantial literature reviews are listed with the number of citations they include. The number of citations is not of course a quality indicator but hopefully research students will find them of value as they start to frame their research projects. Each chapter lists citations that are especially relevant to the scope of the paper, though not all are referenced in the text. There is also an integrated list in an Appendix to the book, together with a note about the research resources I consulted in writing the book.

The book covers both enterprise applications and clinical applications. The similarities and differences are both interesting and important, as I feel that the two communities could well work together to learn from each other. A note on notation might be appropriate here. I have referred to ‘organisations’ rather than ‘businesses’ because the research indicates that the issues of workarounds pervade both the private and public sectors. I have used the term ‘clinical’ to cover all health-care organisations. I am also well aware that there are many ways of referring to what I refer to as ‘EHR’ applications. I also use the term ‘enterprise’ when referring to applications that are implemented widely across an organisation without necessarily conveying that I am only referring to large organisations.

The research papers often make proposals on how to manage workarounds so that both benefits and risks to the organisation and to individual employees can be realised, but there are very few ‘after the event’ papers that assess the success of the measures that have been taken. There are many areas related to workarounds where there is potential for further research and management attention and I have suggested some of these in Chapter 13.

This book was started several months before the launch of ChatGPT by OpenAI. Although the potential impacts of AI are discussed briefly in Chapter 11 it is far too soon to make any predictions about the ways in which AI applications will either increase or decrease the development of workarounds. Hopefully what you learn from this book will enable you to make your decisions on the direction of travel of workarounds and Shadow IT in the immediate and near term.

Chapters 1 – 4 provide an introduction to workarounds, starting with the way in which multiple workarounds brought the three Apollo 13 astronauts safely back to earth. Chapter 2 considers some non-IT workarounds to show that the concept reaches beyond technology. A signficant amount of research and analysis has been published with the objective of defining the characteristics of workarounds and the reasons why they arise. A primary cause being the rapidly increasing complexity (from a user perspective) and this is the subject of Chapter 3.  Chapter 4 considers just a few of the probably hundreds of research papers on this aspect of workarounds. Chapter 5 outlines the qualitative and quantitative methodological options to making the usually invisible workarounds visible.

Chapter 6 sets the scene for a more detailed discussion about the way in which workarounds seem to flourish in large enterprise applications, with a comparison of the similarities and differences between enterprise applications and clinical support applications. Enterprise and clinical support applications are then considered in more detail in Chapters 6 and 8, with shadow IT, feral IT and software application development being covered in Chapter 7.

Opinions vary widely but there is a general acceptance that unstructured information represents perhaps 80% of enterprise content. The current attention being paid to business process management and process mining might help to identify workarounds in structured data processes but workarounds in unstructured information may be much more difficult to trace and ameliorate whilst potentially representing significant business risks. Chapter 9 focuses on information workarounds, with a more general consideration of risk and technical debt in Chapter 12.

In Chapter 10 I start to look at the future, considering the extent to which workarounds could have an impact on the achievement of a digital workplace. Digital workplaces are increasingly making use of AI-enabled processes and in Chapter 11 I take a view on how AI generative applications could turn into workaround machines. This chapter may well need to be updated in the very near future!  Both risk management and technical debt management are discussed in Chapter 12. Finally in Chapter 13 I offer  some reflections on the past, present and future of workaround discovery and governance. I also suggest some areas which represent good research opportunities and make some recommendations to IT managers.

In the Appendix I set out the way in which I went about undertaking the research for this book, and there is a consolidated list of references ordered by the first author. I have also suggested a core list of references that would be a good starting point in gaining an initial appreciation of workarounds and shadow IT.



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Workarounds: the benefits and the risks Copyright © 2023 by Martin White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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