Beating the headache of SaaS sprawl [Q&A]


Moving to the cloud has always presented something of a challenge, but the pandemic made things even more difficult because of the need to manage more applications across a distributed workforce.

Add in the issue of shadow IT, and enterprises are increasingly struggling with SaaS sprawl. We spoke to BetterCloud CTO, Jamie Tischart to learn more about the problem and how to deal with it.

BN: SaaS management has historically been a thorn in IT's side. Has anything changed?

JT: Reining in SaaS sprawl continues to be a massive challenge with IT adopting (trialing and purchasing) applications at a rapid clip. The proliferation of SaaS applications over the past three years -- accelerated by the pandemic -- has made managing and securing all of the applications, its users and business data an insurmountable task. According to our research, 59 percent of IT professionals find SaaS sprawl challenging to manage.

This is the problem BetterCloud has been focusing on for the past decade, and we continue on our mission towards making this a much more manageable and strategic component of IT's job.

BN: Has the pace of SaaS adoption grown or shrunk as a result of the economic slowdown?

JT: We're seeing a few trends. First, IT is consolidating redundant/duplicate SaaS apps. While, the net growth of SaaS apps used is still up 18 percent this year -- with organizations now using 130 apps on average -- it's slower than previous years.

Second, companies are closely measuring the value they are realizing from their SaaS applications. This includes gauging how many licenses they need per application, who is using them and how, and what the overall ROI is. It's par for the course given the economic headwinds.

SaaS applications that don't meet a certain efficiency bar might get cut, while ones that are valuable or can improve/create efficiencies -- while reducing cost -- are seeing continued strong adoption and growth.

Second, we're seeing companies looking to do more with less via automation and zero-touch IT principles. Our research shows that the majority (86 percent) of IT professionals believe automation is important to effectively managing SaaS operations.

BN: What about Shadow IT? It seems like CIOs never really overcame that.

JT: It's always been like fighting an uphill battle. But I wouldn’t say 'a losing battle' -- as I believe that we continue to make progress by bringing visibility into what applications are being used, and getting better at securing and managing them.

In 2022, 65 percent of SaaS apps were unsanctioned. This shows that shadow IT will always be a thing at organizations because it's human nature for individuals and teams to experiment with tools that help them perform their jobs better. That's why IT needs a well-defined application trial and procurement process to ensure employees don't go rogue.

Automated tools like BetterCloud help identify any unsanctioned applications so they can institute proper management and security protocols. Having insight into what applications employees are using can also help IT make them more productive.

BN: How are CIOs approaching SaaS today? What questions are they asking in terms of what they are looking for in a solution?

JT: It really depends on the sector and the business based on regulatory needs, but generally SaaS is the preferred method for CIOs to drive execution and strategic value in the business. Most IT teams are stretched thin, so highly reliable and performant SaaS applications that minimize operating overhead are huge gamechangers for IT.

Every evaluation first needs to address the business problem the solution is built to solve. Then, clear metrics need to be put in place in order to measure ROI. There has to be a process to ensure applications are implemented and rolled out properly. Many applications are often selected and sit unutilized, which is wasteful -- especially in this economy.

Another question that comes up a lot is around duplicative apps. Let's face it, there are many applications out there with overlapping functions. A key IT strategic value is to help identify any waste and confusion impacting productivity.

There's also the management side. It's not only important to consider the performance and function of the application, but also how much work it'll require to manage and how easily it integrates with your existing stack and automated workflows.

BN: It seems like the SaaS management side of things is directly correlated with security. Can you delve a bit into that?

JT: According to our research, 81 percent of IT professionals say they are responsible for protecting sensitive data within SaaS apps. The fact is security has always been a big part of SaaS management, specifically around user access and data protection. But it's never been easy. Almost half (42 percent) of IT pros said that securing user activities within SaaS apps is difficult.

For example, through consistent automation of onboarding and offboarding, you can ensure that users have the right access to what they need to do their jobs and not access to items that need different security policies.

Offboarding is particularly critical to security. Quickly revoking access from employees leaving a company can help minimize exfiltration of critical business data.

BN: What advice would you give a budding IT professional today looking to use SaaS in their business?

JT: SaaS is the way forward, so embrace the usage and benefits of SaaS. Look at ways to create SaaS management automated workflows through companies like BetterCloud to help manage the scale. When approaching SaaSification, be very purposeful about evaluating ROI and operational efficiency of the tools. The continued evolution of SaaS applications and SaaS management platforms can truly improve the strategic alignment of IT as a key leader in the productivity, security and execution of a business.

Photo credit: Alexander Supertramp / Shutterstock

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