Overcoming SaaS chaos: paving the way for the future of work

By Leigh Martin
Leigh Martin, Product Director at Snow Software, dissects our increased dependancy on SaaS offerings during the pandemic, as well as where we go from here.

SaaS adoption accelerated to new levels in 2020, and as a result, we saw an increase in application sprawl. Due to the fact that practically overnight, businesses needed to adapt to at home working for the majority of their staff, users turned to SaaS as a more flexible option to meet the needs of the business quickly. 

The largest and most controversial was with collaboration tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, acting as a vital lifeline and connecting colleagues and organisations through one of the toughest, most challenging business landscapes ever experienced.  

A lot of organisations found that they needed to make brash decisions in moving toward a vendor quickly without checking how and where their data would be stored or whether the proper certifications for protecting data were in place. 

A year on, the decisions made regarding SaaS are starting to show the cracks. In the scramble to implement such tools, many organisations would have invested in blanket subscriptions in an urgent bid to enable employees to carry out their roles, regardless of job role or function. Organisations are now starting to think about how to negotiate with these vendors they are dependent on and shifting from one SaaS service to another is not as easy when people have embedded it into their daily life, not to mention the potential training required for alternatives. 

Everyone will have a different use for SaaS tools; while some will be perfectly suited to more basic functions, others will need to use a more advanced model to get their job done. Whilst working from home, employees may even have implemented their own SaaS subscriptions on their own devices or data storage applications, such as Dropbox, which could be registered to their personal OR their work email accounts – which isn’t ideal. 

When looking ahead, a successful SaaS implementation for business will require the consolidation of SaaS systems with greater awareness around where data is being held and ease of integration to remove data silos. The future of work in this new hybrid world will depend on unlocking SaaS applications' greater efficiency through broader visibility and management of what can seem like a chaotic web of investments. 

The rise of SaaS applications – and how businesses need them to stay afloat 

There’s no doubt that SaaS applications have kept organisations going throughout the pandemic, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. Cisco projects that in 2021, 75% of all cloud workloads and computing instances will come from SaaS applications. 

SaaS applications have changed during the pandemic, strengthening their offerings and providing extensive scalability, far beyond what developers may have originally intended. The reality is there is so much choice and the customer is still in control. However, many SaaS vendors are not offering the data required for many organisations to understand effective cost management including missing APIs to understand what modules are being paid for and additional contract terms that were not included in the renewals. 

The chaos of the quick choice 

Before businesses can utilise new features, they need to be able to understand how they can support the day-to-day, and this usually takes some consideration. As mentioned, in the early days of the pandemic and remote working, there was little time to carefully weigh up SaaS options based on things like broader need of the organisation, budget negotiation or even security; therefore, decisions were made quickly so that businesses could keep going. This has meant that organisations are now at risk of overspending, handling duplicate use of the same application in different departments with different billing terms or even a lack of employee enablement to optimise the use of certain applications – whether that’s due to a lack of knowledge or certain features are not needed. 

Organisations are lacking a clear view as to what SaaS applications are being used, how, or by who. This may also mean descending into further chaos, or worse – breaching mandatory regulations such as GDPR and record of processing activities (ROPA), which could result in fines and negative associated press. 

With so many SaaS applications spread throughout the business, it could actually be making it more difficult for employees to find the right information when they need it and could instead be exposing the business to unidentified risks. In a recent Snow Software survey of IT leaders, 32% of respondents noted that they have between 501 to 1000 unique SaaS applications running across their organisation – and another 32% reported having 101 to 500. We find that it includes duplicate types of applications like two to six different collaboration tools and more than six storage solutions. The biggest issue is that these applications don’t always integrate – or can even conflict – with each other. 

It is important, therefore, as we settle into the new normal that organisations take the time to revisit the SaaS applications that are in place and ask questions about how they may impact the organisation, as well as how they can support hybrid working going forward. 

Gaining a handle on the sprawl

The need for complete visibility and comprehensive management is essential - this is something we call technology intelligence. When managing any application, the key is about visibility. With SaaS spreading through business like wildfire and controls dispersed across various departments, organisations need to ensure that we can discover what is out there and who is using it. If you’re having trouble discovering rampant SaaS sprawl, consider having conversations with each department owner about what they may be using and why. Organisations may even want to consider a tool that can help with the discovery process. Once you have the data in hand, you can start the strategic conversations about onboarding these SaaS tools as part of business practise by adding it to your SSO tools and provide guidance on contract negotiations or renewals. 

Through SaaS and software asset management principles, organisations can be confident in their knowledge of where their data is stored, what they’re getting for their money and the integration options available to them. This level of transparency needs to become the norm going forward so that businesses are fully in control of their applications and how they use them within their organisations. 

SaaS applications will only continue to proliferate for the foreseeable future, despite likely consolidation efforts from many businesses. Organisations need to think ahead about how they can gain visibility, identify duplication and advise the business about any unnecessary costs and optimisations that can be made. It will be the organisations that regain control over their SaaS applications that will be best placed for the demands of the future of work, and the hybrid era we are about to embark on. 


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