The SaaS Stack: Consolidate or Expand?

Chief Product Officer at BetterClouda provider of SaaSOps solutions for digital workplace management and security.

Despite efforts to consolidate, the SaaS application stack within organizations continues to grow at a rapid pace. In fact, according to BetterCloud’s “2022 State of SaaSOps,” the average company today employs about 130 SaaS applications. Shockingly, some larger businesses sign up to over 400.

But how did we get here? It’s no secret that SaaS has done wonders for businesses. In its early stages—when Google Workspace was Google Apps—it was an innovation that seemed convenient, but people weren’t sure it would become the de facto way of working. We now know that SaaS empowers businesses. The success of telecommuting over the past two years has made this abundantly clear.

During the pandemic, SaaS applications have become a beacon of light for both employees and employers, enabling everyone to do their work from home. Many of the biggest SaaS players—Zoom, Okta, Slack, Salesforce—saw a big uptick in business, indicating that companies are adopting SaaS at an even faster rate than before.

SaaS kept people productive, enabling businesses to continue despite market uncertainties. But for some companies, the proliferation of SaaS may have been too much of a good thing. Suddenly cases of “app fatigue” became common among employees. IT was quickly overwhelmed, as if they weren’t already suffering from application overload challenges before the pandemic.

Is it too much of a good thing?

For years, we thought “the more the merrier” when it came to stacking up our SaaS stack. With each passing year, we’re tempted with new, better apps that promise to deliver increased productivity gains. In many cases, this is true, but not all.

More often, more applications means more work for IT departments—difficult, manual, tedious admin work they not only lack the manpower to handle properly, but also find it mundane.

Also, more apps in many cases means more holes in an organization’s security posture. The more applications, the more places the data lives, making it harder to track/monitor the data, maintain consistency and security. One issue is that SaaS applications don’t always “talk” to each other in a way that helps trace where data is going at any given time.

Less urgent but worth mentioning, workers are sometimes overwhelmed with too many application options as there are many options for each function these days. Think how many options we have for communication today, from Slack to MSFT Teams to Google Meet to Zoom.

All of this begs the question: should you consolidate or continue to grow your SaaS stack? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for all organizations, but regardless, you need a framework to understand what’s going on in your environment.

Integration of the SaaS application stack

You have a few options if you’re suffering from app overload. You can examine your stack and slowly trim the fat. You can just keep your stack as is and hope that IT can catch up. Or you can continue to grow your stack in the hope that the perceived increased productivity would offset the security and management headaches.

Regardless of which option is right for your organization, you need to start by answering some key questions:

• How many apps do I have?

• Which applications are used the most?

• What do we spend on apps?

Shockingly, most companies can’t even answer the first one. But this is not about pointing fingers. The fact is, most companies lack the technology to gain continuous insight and data visibility into their SaaS environments. And you can’t take action on what you can’t see.

But with the right platform, you can gain a comprehensive view of security. You can easily see where data resides in any given application, how sensitive that data is, and most importantly, who has access.

You can curb Shadow IT, or better yet, embrace it. Employees often have their favorite apps that they install and use at work. If you know which apps they like, you can proactively enforce them across the organization.

You can save money by identifying and removing penalties for ghost, orphan, and duplicate apps, which are apps that are rarely used for one reason or another. After all, why spend money on apps that nobody uses? Also, these can become pockets of business data, which in turn can become attack vectors.

Decide what the “SaaS tipping point” is for your instrument—and take action accordingly

SaaS experimentation and adoption is a natural process in companies. Employees and managers alike want to find better and more efficient ways to get their work done. While everyone can agree that SaaS is critical today, we can all also agree that it can easily get out of hand.

But you cannot take action blindly. Uninformed decisions that change your application stack can hurt productivity. Don’t act rashly without the right information.

Even if you don’t have the technology to give you ideas today, you can start by talking to employees and stakeholders. It can be as simple as empowering department heads to ask their teams simple questions like “Do you prefer Google Workspace or O365?”

Without any insight and context, it’s impossible to know whether to consolidate or grow the SaaS stack.

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