SaaS at Work: Data-Driven Collaboration in Distributed Workplaces

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Read more about author Uri Haramati.

In the last few years, entropy has reigned supreme, but cloud-based tools have helped business workers maintain a sense of order. Operations, employee engagement, marketing, customer success – you name it, there’s a SaaS app that empowers it. And while the world at large may still feel out of control, the ease with which anyone can test, buy, and integrate cloud applications (without IT’s involvement) gives today’s workforce greater control over the tools that dictate how they work. 

But it’s not all roses when it comes to data-driven collaboration, as the State of SaaS At Work: Collaboration in a Distributed Workplace report reveals. The survey takes a closer look at the new and evolving culture of distributed SaaS ownership and adoption, what’s working, what isn’t, and what that means for organizations moving forward. 

In theory, the overall sentiment toward distributed adoption is positive, with 80% of IT professionals believing it is either “good” or “excellent” that individuals outside of IT are making their own SaaS purchasing decisions. Post-implementation is where reality hits and things get a bit dicey, particularly with cross-team collaboration. 

Most IT professionals (62%) report that distributed app ownership has made it more difficult to collaborate with different departments. For each group evaluated in the report (Finance/Procurement, Security/Compliance, Human Resources, Line of Business or LOB), collaboration with IT  happens “often” or “continuously” only 14%-20% of the time – even with groups typically assumed to work hand-in-hand. 

To tackle pressing SaaS challenges – shadow IT, unmanaged spending, last-minute contract negotiations, surprise renewals, shaky governance – and reap the benefits of distributed adoption, organizations need to close these collaboration gaps with cross-functional SaaS management strategies.

In an ideal state, every organization would have a distributed SaaS management strategy that empowers app owners and stakeholders to manage spend, security, and procurement by ensuring they have easy access to accurate, actionable data. Even better, they’d have automations that take busywork out of the equation. However, that ideal is in conflict with the true state of SaaS, and there are a few reasons why.

4 Reasons Businesses Struggle to Create Data-Driven, Distributed SaaS Management Strategies 

1.  Lack of visibility and ongoing application discovery

Nearly anyone can adopt a cloud application in a matter of clicks, and now that organizations are empowering autonomy around app choices, it’s become somewhat of a free-for-all. 

One of the most staggering stats to come out of the State of SaaS at Work report is that 60% of IT leaders don’t know the full extent of what apps are in their SaaS stacks. That’s a problem. Without complete visibility into the apps you have, it’s impossible to create a holistic, effective SaaS management strategy. You can’t secure, catalog, or act on what you can’t see. 

Shadow IT is a particularly pressing challenge to gaining visibility. Unless individuals are self-reporting these unsanctioned applications to IT leaders, or there are automated discovery tools in place that continuously surface apps as they enter your network, these applications stay in the shadows, unactionable to anyone unaware of their existence. 

There is growing fear of the unknown and 69% of executives said shadow IT is a top security concern. However, only 20% of State of SaaS at Work respondents stated that IT collaborates with security and/or compliance teams often or continuously to discover hidden applications. That needs to change. 

The ability to continually discover and map applications – and thereby create crystal-clear visibility of all apps in your SaaS stack, sanctioned or unsanctioned – is fundamental to any data-driven SaaS management strategy. Not only will it help cybersecurity-focused teams protect your company data from outside threats, other stakeholders will be more able to pinpoint data they need for their own SaaS management tasks. 

2.  Lack of actionable insights derived from a single source of truth (SSOT)

Visibility isn’t just about discovering and managing shadow IT, it’s also about creating a complete picture – data, “color,” and all – and funneling it into a dynamic, single source of truth (SSOT). 

In the past, IT and procurement teams maintained their own sources of truth for apps they knew about. Now, distributed SaaS app adoption and ownership mean that data and insights are also distributed. This makes it difficult – if not impossible – for IT and cross-functional stakeholders to find and act on the application data they need.

For example, it may be that there is actionable SaaS data, but people who need it don’t know who has ownership or access to it, and may not even know who to ask to get those answers. Or on the other hand, an application owner may have data that others would want, they just don’t know who to share it with, or how to distribute it. So data sits in its silo, waiting for someone to shed light on it.

Sourcing actionable data shouldn’t require a large-scale investigation. A SSOT integrated with your applications centralizes all SaaS management data so any and all stakeholders can easily see which apps a company has, who owns them, who has access to them, how frequently or infrequently they’re used and by whom, how much they cost, whether they’re over or under-licensed, and much more. With complete, reliable data available to all in a SSOT, cross-functional teams can work in lock-step to make the best decisions about how to optimize their return on SaaS investments. 

3.  Lack of true ownership

True application ownership, from beginning to end of the life cycle, is broken. This is yet another impediment to effective distributed SaaS management strategies. 

Individuals and departments who adopt their own apps start the lifecycle, but often stop short of fully owning, managing, and optimizing the apps. Frankly, they may not even know how to. For instance, a marketing manager who owns a social media scheduling app won’t necessarily look at contract terms, app usage data, or spending the same way IT and procurement/finance teams would. 

When asked how distributed SaaS adoption decisions affected the role of IT, 50% of the respondents in State of SaaS at Work said it made application spending and contract renewals more difficult to manage.

It’s critical that IT and procurement teams treat application management like a team sport. Everyone with a stake in SaaS needs to know the game plan, i.e., the business goals and the plays to execute toward those goals. 

A SSOT will give visibility into the mapped, active applications and their data, but action demands collaboration and coordination between cross-functional players. 

For example, let’s say IT manages Zoom licenses, and usage data reveals that several users don’t need the extra hosting capabilities that come with a Pro license. Does IT proactively share that data with lines of business so they – the Zoom users – can have input into whether a downgraded Basic license makes better sense? Do they share it with Finance, who is looking for ways to save money, or with Procurement, who could use that intel to better negotiate contract renewals?

Given the state of remote work (and remote networks), organizations have to work even harder to build a culture of collaboration so experts in their discipline can proactively wrangle sprawling SaaS management data and act accordingly. IT and LOB leaders should set data-sharing expectations for application owners – what data they share, when they share it, and who they share it with. Or, even better, automate these actions.

4.  Lack of automation

Collaboration, at its core, depends on person-to-person, team-to-team interactions. We are all, however, only human. Leveraging automation to assist with SaaS management tasks helps eliminate human errors (and limitations). 

With so many people and actions involved in managing SaaS in today’s distributed workplace, manual processes are simply not going to work long-term. Tasks and data will inevitably fall through the cracks or take far too much time to accomplish or act on.

The future is automated – as you’ve likely heard a thousand times – and it’s absolutely true for SaaS management. Instead of trying to track down all applications one-by-one (an impossible feat), automation puts real-time application discovery on autopilot. It pulls application-related data into your SSOT without anyone having to lift a finger. It allows organizations to create workflow triggers and rules for delegating tasks and managing the entire distributed ecosystem – as a coordinated team. 

For instance, if IT can set up automated workflows to notify procurement and app owners when a contract is coming up for renewal with plenty of advanced notice, they can come together, analyze usage trends for that app, and bring end-users into the conversation to gauge whether the app is still useful to them. 

This is just one example of the endless possibilities powered by automation. With a full suite of automated SaaS management processes, teams can move out of a fragmented, reactive state and into a proactive, collaborative, data-driven state that saves time and money.  

Don’t Just Mind the (Data and Collaboration) Gaps, Bridge Them 

Distributed SaaS adoption is the new reality. Everyone and anyone can be – and often is – an app owner. To adapt to this, it may mean that organizations need to implement a sort of SaaS management chain of command, or an advisory board that brings together SaaS stakeholders on all sides of the business. But without tools to support distributed SaaS management, fractured and, therefore, incomplete and unreliable, data sources will persist and the state of cross-functional collaboration will remain poor. As will the return on companies’ SaaS investments.

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