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SnapLogic: Cutting through the SaaS sprawl

18 Nov 2019

Article by SnapLogic field CTO Brad Drysdale

The way that IT departments manage the applications and devices that employees can use in the workplace has changed dramatically over the past decade.

There was a time, not so long ago, when there were strict controls on what could and couldn’t be used.

IT-mandated policies put a stop to departments getting access to the applications and systems that directly impacted how they carried out their jobs, often causing frustration and affecting productivity. 

To the delight of businesses everywhere, the majority of policies in place now are less restrictive. Business departments, whether that be HR, marketing or finance, are now able to select the applications they need, whenever they need them, and on whatever device.

This is having a positive impact on the business overall, as employees are able to work in a more productive and effective manner.

But whilst it is great that attitudes towards IT policies are changing and different departments are now able to fulfil their own specific goals with suitable tools, this has created a problem all its own – SaaS sprawl.

Managing SaaS sprawl

A McAfee report from 2017 found that on average, enterprises are using 1,427 distinct cloud services, with the typical employee using 36 different cloud applications during their working day. The large majority of these cloud apps are used in isolation, not connected to one another.

It seems that our appetite for applications may have taken things too far, leaving IT departments with a much looser grip on the software and devices employees use compared to previous eras.

This increase in SaaS sprawl causes a number of issues for both the IT department and the business as a whole.

Unsurprisingly, keeping track of all these applications and managing them is a real challenge for the IT department.

Security is a top priority as part of this, with concerns around ensuring these apps are kept updated, and are in compliance with regulations and policies.

Further issues have arisen where multiple applications that offer similar functionality exist within different departments of the same business, as rationalising these applications or getting them to work together seamlessly has been a struggle. 

Additionally, with so many SaaS applications running independently, managing all the data that flows into them and then comes out the other side can be a real challenge for businesses looking to turn their growing data stores into trusted business insights.

In a research report that SnapLogic commissioned, we found over a fifth of employees from large enterprises were unaware of what data other departments hold.

If this is indeed the case, then it’s highly probable that, across the business, individual departments are working with different or incomplete datasets, which they’re pushing into their various, disparate applications.

So, while IT departments should be playing a key role in the company’s greater digital transformation goals, they are instead having to spend time keeping tabs on hundreds if not thousands of apps as a result of SaaS sprawl.

The old IT saying of “garbage in, garbage out” still holds true, and if departments are pushing poor quality, incomplete, or redundant data into their applications, then they’re not taking full advantage of them.

The benefits of being able to choose the best applications for the job at hand are dulled if the number of disconnected apps in use means data is inconsistent or inaccurate. 

Taking back control

Luckily, the issue of SaaS sprawl can be managed and there are steps that businesses can take to combat it.

Realigning the relationship between the IT team and other departments will play a huge part.

Whilst the IT team previously held ownership over apps, clearly an application free-for-all with little IT oversight is not a suitable strategy either.

IT needs to be seen as a consultative partner within the business, providing recommendations and best practices on how different applications can work together and indicating where other areas of the business could benefit from using the same applications.

A key to re-forging this relationship will be identifying those individuals in each line of business who can be the liaison between their department and IT.

This will help to ensure that care is being taken in deciding which applications will be of genuine benefit to the business, rather than simply adding to the sprawl.

As much as the IT department must be more closely involved with the end-user within each department, so too must responsibility be held by the c-suite.

To guarantee a shift that incorporates transparency around application use, a mandate needs to come from the men and women at the top of the business.

Integrating business departments

If the data being fed into SaaS applications is redundant, incomplete, or inconsistent, then its true value cannot be realised.

But if applications all have the same single view of the data, greater business value can be extracted.

With proper data integration pipelines linking all these applications and data sources, IT can create a holistic data picture for use by the entire business.

Analytics will be more valuable company-wide, insights more accurate, and business leaders will be able to make faster, better-informed decisions on the future of the business.

Shifting attitudes throughout the business will allow IT to have a far greater level of visibility into what applications are currently running throughout the business and make the final step of the process far simpler.

Taming SaaS applications is so much more than relieving the headaches of the IT department.

It is about guaranteeing that each department in a business is properly equipped to become more data-driven and deriving the maximum value from the applications being used.

Businesses must get their SaaS sprawl in check now to deliver true business benefits in the future.

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