22nd December, 2020
The question ‘Do you know your SaaS stack’ might sound pretty elementary at first glance. However, like all simple questions, the answer is quite layered and deep. This question surfaces in the minds of many IT leaders across the board as it is multifaceted and has implications across various functions including technology, finance, procurement, etc. The total market value for cloud services would be more than $240 Billion by 2021*, according to the ITAM review, meaning SaaS is a large part of the tech pie. The fact that about 35%* of this spend isn’t utilized optimally is bound to sleepless nights for, the finance and procurement leaders.
Let us take the analogy of the workforce to contextualize the impact. While it may seem very unfair to compare humans to software, we cannot ignore that the top organizations in the world today are those which leverage both talent and technology optimally (think of Google, Facebook, and the likes). As we entered the 21st century, we exited a phase where humans worked alongside technology and started an era where the workforce is a hybrid of technology and talent. No business leader would be okay to have 35% of his/her employees engaged in nonproductive work, then why would he/she be ok with such a scenario when it comes to the software application stack?
This is only the tip of the iceberg, but I am sure it is enough for us to start thinking about the question ‘Do you know your SaaS stack?’ in a much more objective fashion. A good starting point would be to understand the various stages in SaaS App Management. Each stage has its own intricacies and challenges. These stages are continuous and cyclical in nature and hence we call this the SaaS App Management Lifecycle.
I am sure that no organization would be fine to let some of its headcount go undocumented. There are many legal, social, technological & business challenges that are addressed through human resource management. These organizations never fail to start the business year without an HR management strategy, but the time now has come for us to make a strategic business case for managing SaaS applications. SaaS App Management also comes with an equal number of complexities that need to be addressed. We have already touched upon the financial cost of this, there are a plethora of legal implications related to compliance that need to be considered, not to mention the risks, security, and data privacy-related issues that could crop up.
How could an organization that has thousands of employees ensure that all the SaaS applications used by its workforce are indeed compliant, secure, and aligned to what the organization wants if they do not have a centralized SaaS App Management Lifecycle process or platform in place? But before we delve deeper into the how, let us touch upon the basic tenets of SaaS app management lifecycle.
The parallels between the Employee lifecycle and SaaS App Management lifecycle is logical. Irrespective of the size of an organization or the number of apps that it uses, all organizations must do the following four critical actions when it comes to SaaS without fail:
Manage: Tweak workflows and features to create alignment
Audit & Optimize: Measure and improve effectiveness and utilization
Secure: Take care of data, privacy, and related issues
Comply: Make sure that the SaaS app adheres to industry and local standards at all times
These critical actions are spread over the 6 stages of the SaaS App Management Lifecycle. The effectiveness of your SaaS stack depends on how tightly these actions are integrated across the following 6 stages:
Discover: In this stage, we explore the software landscape to scout for the right application that meets our business needs. The discovery of software was easy in the past but now in the SaaS-enabled world there are too many pointed solutions for micro use cases. The API economy also results in a lot of new apps mushrooming every day. ‘How does one handle this problem of plenty?’ is the key question of this stage.
Try and Buy: Once we have shortlisted, we try the application, negotiate the cost, and buy the software.
On-board: Like the cultural integration of new hires, the new software must be integrated with your organization’s workflow. While SaaS tools are designed to supercharge the organization’s productivity, it will be only as effective as its adoption rate. If the challenges during this face aren’t met effectively it would defeat the purpose of adopting SaaS applications. The milestones, the ownership, accesses, are all put in place in this stage.
Train: Any tool is only as good as the person who uses it. Hence training is critical to ensure that all the features of the app are well understood and your employees know how to use the tool. More often than not, SaaS purchasing is de-centralized and training is centralized. This creates a capability void within the organizations. Moreover, the most powerful learning resources are all scattered on the internet. So, a training approach that operates in conjunction with the purchase of the SaaS applications is critical.
Promote: Once we have adopted the new software, it is wise to track and measure its utilization. Like any change, not all the target audience would jump on to the new tool. We need to promote the tool internally, build initial success stories, modify processes around the tool to ensure optimal utilization. This could also be a good time to let go of redundant and old software that is no longer needed.
Off-board: After a product has served its purpose, we naturally let it go, but the question to ask at this stage is are we letting it go in a safe manner. Have we considered the risks associated with the discontinuation? Will there be any compliance issues? After all, data is bound by regulations too and it makes sense to retire the software with due consideration.
This is the beginning of what we intend to be a series of blog posts where we want to discuss the importance of each stage and explore the ways to manage SaaS in a centralized, efficient manner. Stay tuned and watch out for the next few posts.
*Witt, A. J. (2019, September 9). Get to grips with unmanaged cloud spend. The ITAM Review. https://www.itassetmanagement.net/2019/04/18/get-to-grips-with-cloud-spend/