Manage SaaS Sprawl to Keep Control of Shadow IT

How controlling SaaS Sprawl helps you minimize the risks and costs of Shadow IT.

Tackling Shadow IT used to mean ensuring everyone in the company had the same laptop model running the same version of Microsoft Office. But with the rise of SaaS and the proliferation of hyper-specialized solutions, organizations of all sizes are now managing a rapidly growing new cause of Shadow IT: Shadow Sprawl. There are so many simple and accessible options out there, that they simply don’t have any consistent visibility on who’s using which SaaS platform, what parameters they’re working with and what it all means for the overall safety and efficiency of their systems. As a result, countless IT and procurement departments are now facing a new challenge: finding a middle ground between the diversification of specialized, individualized tools, and the simplified efficiencies of scale. That’s where SaaS management platforms come in.

When necessity is the mother of invention

For us, the struggle was real. As a company founded upon principles of trust and independence, we saw the growth of SaaS solutions as a tremendous opportunity for getting the right tools into the right hands. As IT professionals, however, we saw the danger inherent with losing track of exactly what was running on our systems.

It’s been estimated that for a 200+ person company like ours, employees can generate roughly 2700 unique SaaS app interactions.

If even a small portion of those interactions are prompted by solutions that haven’t been explicitly approved by an IT team, a company’s systems could be vulnerable to some serious blind spots.

As a result, today’s IT departments are now responsible for manually managing access for every app, shepherding new employees towards what they need, and tracking usage in a way that minimizes redundancy and needless license. That is, of course, if they even have the tools and access they need to track down that information at all. But without the right tools, the resources deployed to wrangle and control internal SaaS sprawl can come to outweigh any productivity gains that the specialized software was deployed for in the first place.

When we went looking for a solution, we found existing products that dealt with access management, procurement and usage monitoring, but nothing that allowed us to seamlessly sync and coordinate across multiple solutions. So we went ahead and built Custodian, a SaaS management solution that virtually eliminates the risk of Shadow IT caused by an organization’s growing catalogue of SaaS solutions by doing the following:

  • Automatically discovering exactly which apps are in your SaaS stack
  • Collecting data on how many licenses are actually being put to use
  • Offering an easy-to-use, decentralized requisition process
  • Enabling smooth onboarding and offboarding with regards to SaaS access
  • Ensuring continuity during the change management process of implementation

The power is in the data

Are you sure you know what’s in your SaaS stack? For a 200-500 person enterprise, numbers have shown that there’s an average of 32 different billing owners handling multiple vendors and licenses – and that’s to say nothing of ‘orphaned’ or duplicate subscriptions. But manually compiling a list of apps and licences is a resource-heavy endeavour, and only provides a snapshot of present conditions, not future needs or past usage data.

That’s why we decided to dedicate a considerable chunk of our product development time and resources building and perfecting an automatic SaaS Discovery navigator extension, which effortlessly creates a real-time library of your SaaS inventory along with detailed reports of actual usage. So if that product management solution you bought for the whole team is only being used by a handful of people, you’ll know within weeks, not months.

There’s an (approved) app for that

Now that you’ve got a handle on what’s running on your stack, it’s time to add a bit of structure to the chaos. You’ve got a few options: you can either stock, track and manage your SaaS list in an Excel file, or use Custodian to build and populate an internal app store with a list of pre-approved SaaS apps sorted by position and department. That way, your teams don’t have to do all the legwork in finding the right solution, they can simply browse and request.

From there, the request is passed through your management structure for approval before being sent to the IT and procurement teams, who can effectively process the request knowing it has passed multi-level authorization.

All a(bove)board

One of the most common sources of duplicate or lost licenses is employee turnover. New licenses are needed for an onboarded team member, but has IT procurement been informed whether that employee is a replacement or a new position? Custodian lets you track all licenses associated with a given profile. That way, when turnover inevitably occurs, all necessary changes can be made to ensure that existing licenses are transferred, deactivated or cancelled before purchasing unnecessary copies.

On the flip side, new hires can instantly be given the tools they need, avoiding unnecessary yet all-too-common interruptions to their onboarding process caused by access delays.

Simplifying transitions for broader adoption

At the end of the day, we believe that a much-need, yet poorly executed poorly change can prove worse than no change at all. Without buy-in at every level of an organization, the new workflow can easily end up being even less efficient than the one it was designed to replace.

That’s why Custodian is designed to minimize disruption to existing processes: existing SaaS license and user data can be seamlessly imported from Excel worksheets and all Microsoft Accounts can be synced for the easy import of user and group settings. That means smoother transitions, better oversight and quicker buy-in across your entire organization.

With median annual SaaS contract values at $35,000 USD a year and rising, Shadow IT isn’t just a problem for your IT department anymore. Those unnecessary subscriptions, drains on productivity and clunky procurement workflows are painful for everyone involved – making a vendor and licenses management platform a must-have for any growing, multi-disciplinary team.