shadow it stats

Shadow IT Stats: Top 20 Discovered Applications

Shadow IT can be as mysterious as it sounds. What’s more, it represents both large risks and great opportunities for IT departments. So, what exactly is it?

Shadow IT represents a number of activities: signing up for free trials, purchasing single licenses without the knowledge of IT, and a lack of app ownership when an app owner leaves their role, for example.

It’s not about stamping out apps and software to reduce costs or create enterprise-wide tool kits. Rather, it’s about learning more about the apps and tools employees are using to do their jobs and discover up-and-coming apps that can put the organization at an advantage.

With this in mind, we’ve used our proprietary Productiv data to learn more about shadow IT stats and trends that are defining the practice. Here’s what we’ve found through our research.

Shadow IT creates opportunities to bring the right tools on board.

Nearly 43% of a company’s apps are discovered and are the byproduct of shadow IT. For clarity’s sake, “discovered apps” are not behind single sign-on capabilities and not managed or purchased by IT.

The ease of purchasing apps directly, even with a credit card, has led to the decentralization of IT across the organization.

When IT isn’t the one swiping the credit card, there is a larger risk of oversight. IT leaders need to leverage multiple sources to uncover all IT across the organization. Productiv leverages everything from network traffic to expense reports to provide greater visibility.

Across our customers, we discovered that the average number of apps per company is 186, 78 of which are discovered.

These discovered apps can enter the organization through a variety of means. For example, a user signs up for a free trial or enlists in a “freemium” version of a product. There’s no logistical need to get IT involved, and thus can often fly under the radar if IT isn’t looking for this type of activity.

As Uber CIO Shobz Ahluwalia shared with us:

“My team wants to adopt new tools, but in a secure and systematic method. Productiv helps us create a sandbox with guardrails. We can test a tool in one department and really understand the business value and the KPIs of a new app. Meanwhile, if a tool is being used by more than three departments, then it becomes a ‘corporate tool,’ and comes under the IT umbrella.

Shobz also believes that allowing shadow IT to thrive can be a faster path to innovation. IT simply can’t always keep up, but by having the right boundaries in place, they can at least find new opportunities in the practice.

The top 20 discovered apps are a blend of popular and niche apps

When we looked closer at our data to find what some of the top discovered apps are, we were a bit surprised at the mix. Tools like Adobe Acrobat and Google were hardly curious. Those are big names in software, regardless of your role or job function.

We’re more focused on up-and-coming apps that could help companies to innovate. We pulled the top 20 apps from this perspective, and they include (in no particular order):

  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP)
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Tableau
  • Atlassian Cloud
  • Adobe
  • Miro
  • Grammarly
  • Calendly
  • Glassdoor
  • Kahoot!
  • G2
  • Canva
  • Trello
  • SurveyMonkey
  • Coursera
  • Evernote
  • Google
  • Zapier
  • Postman

Some of these are not surprising since people may be accustomed to signing up for tools on their own. Or, they might be cheap enough that people are buying them on their own.

But some of these, like Calendly, Grammarly, or Trello, could be really useful to a lot more people to help them do their job. This is the whole reason we look at this data: to find out which tools could be useful but aren’t being supported across the organization.

What We Learned about Up-and-Coming Apps from Our Data

While names like Adobe and Google are a common language between users and IT departments, other names like Coursera, Miro, and might need a little more translation. Employees like and use these tools for a reason, and IT would do well to learn what these reasons are and see if others in the organization can achieve the same benefits.

Let’s unpack these a little more:


The platform that is arguably leading the e-learning revolution, Coursera provides direct access to online courses from top learning institutions. Users can complete courses and earn certifications and degrees to improve their skills. In turn, a more educated workforce can easily become an organization’s competitive advantage.


A collaborative whiteboard tool, Miro supports remote teams with visual interfaces and real-time functionality. It offers a number of integrations, such as Box, Dropbox, and G Suite, which may fit seamlessly with tools you’re already using. Its popularity surged during the pandemic, and because remote work is likely to continue longer after a “normal” life resumes, companies will need to continue to seek ways to improve collaboration.

There are tons of features within Miro, so using Productiv to see exactly how people are using Miro can deliver more insight into the tool’s overall value. streamlines the creation of diagrams and flowcharts for developers. However, tech-focused roles aren’t the only ones who may benefit. Any team or individual that relies on mind mapping, visual diagrams, or project timelines may find it useful. This is one example of why it’s essential for IT to not only uncover shadow IT but fully understand why people choose the tools they do and how they can help a company innovate.

Shadow IT Stats: The Bottom Line

HashiCorp’s Jim Fazzone says it best: Shadow IT is the opportunity to look for innovation.

Shadow IT gets a bad rap due to its high costs and a lack of IT control. However, it can also be a good thing when employees take matters into their own hands and allow IT insight into how certain roles need to work and function.

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