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SaaS Sprawl: What It is, Its Challenges and How to Manage It

Reco Security Experts
December 29, 2023
6 min read

What is SaaS Sprawl?

SaaS sprawl occurs when there's unchecked expansion of different SaaS tools and applications within an organization. While SaaS offers scalable and accessible solutions, its uncontrolled growth can create management difficulties, inefficiencies, and increased costs.

What Causes SaaS Sprawl?

SaaS sprawl happens when companies quickly adopt many SaaS applications without enough control. This growth, driven by the appeal of SaaS, leads to too many unmanaged apps.

It's important to know why this happens to prevent and manage it effectively.‍

Causes Explanation
Lack of Authorization Unauthorized adoption of SaaS tools by employees can lead to a lack of control and visibility, contributing to SaaS sprawl. Without proper authorization processes in place, individuals may subscribe to tools that may not align with organizational goals or security standards.
Shadow IT Shadow IT, the use of unauthorized software and applications without IT department’s approval is a significant driver of SaaS sprawl. Employees seeking quick solutions to their needs may resort to using tools outside the purview of IT, leading to a decentralized and unregulated SaaS environment.
Lack of Standardization The absence of standardized processes for evaluating, selecting, and implementing SaaS tools can result in a diverse and uncoordinated software landscape. This lack of standardization contributes to the difficulty of managing and securing the SaaS ecosystem effectively.
Lack of Employee Training Insufficient training on approved SaaS tools can lead to underutilization and the subsequent adoption of additional tools to fill perceived gaps. Proper training ensures that employees maximize the potential of existing tools, reducing the need for additional applications.
Underutilization of SaaS Tools Sometimes, organizations invest in powerful SaaS tools but fail to leverage their full potential. This underutilization can prompt teams to seek alternative solutions, leading to redundancy and a bloated SaaS environment.
Lack of Centralized Management In the absence of a centralized management approach, different departments may independently choose and manage their SaaS applications. This decentralized model contributes to a lack of visibility, control, and coordination, fueling SaaS sprawl.
Using Siloed Systems When departments operate in isolation, using tools that do not integrate seamlessly with others results in data silos and inefficient communication. Siloed systems promote the adoption of additional tools to bridge communication gaps, exacerbating SaaS sprawl.

SaaS Sprawl Challenges

The unchecked growth of SaaS apps brings about various challenges that organizations must address to maintain operational efficiency and security.

Here are some of the key challenges:

  • Operational Inefficiencies: SaaS sprawl can lead to operational inefficiencies as teams struggle to collaborate effectively across a multitude of disconnected tools. This inefficiency hampers productivity and may result in duplicated efforts.
  • Security Concerns: The more SaaS tools an organization uses, the greater the potential security vulnerabilities. Managing user access, data encryption, and compliance becomes increasingly complex, posing a significant risk to sensitive information.
  • Financial Challenges: SaaS sprawl often results in overlapping functionalities and redundant subscriptions, leading to unnecessary financial expenditures. Organizations may find themselves paying for multiple apps with similar features, impacting the overall budget.
  • Compliance Issues: Failure to monitor and manage SaaS tools can result in non-compliance with industry regulations and internal policies. This lack of compliance can lead to legal consequences and damage the organization's reputation.
  • Visibility Issues: A sprawling SaaS landscape makes it challenging to maintain visibility into the software assets and usage patterns. This lack of visibility hinders effective decision-making and makes it difficult to assess the overall impact of SaaS tools on the organization.
  • Data Management Challenges: With data scattered across various SaaS applications, managing and securing sensitive information becomes a formidable task. Data integration, migration, and retrieval may become complicated, affecting business processes.

How SaaS Sprawl Affects Business

SaaS sprawl's expansion in organizations clearly affects their business operations. Knowing how SaaS sprawl impacts businesses is key for those responsible for managing its effects. We'll look into how SaaS sprawl puts a strain on finances, reduces productivity, and raises data exposure risks. These impacts highlight the need for organizations to actively manage SaaS sprawl with effective strategies and practices.

  • High Business Costs: SaaS sprawl leads to extra costs from overlapping subscriptions and underused tools. Tackling this issue is key to cutting costs and improving return on investment.
  • Negative Impact on Productivity: SaaS sprawl causes operational issues, making it harder for teams to collaborate, communicate, and access important information, which lowers productivity.
  • Data Exposure Risks: The decentralized nature of SaaS sprawl increases the risk of sensitive data exposure, underscoring the importance of effective saas management. Unauthorized access, data breaches, and compromised information security become more likely without effective SaaS management.

10 Best Practices to Avoid SaaS Sprawl

To control SaaS sprawl, adopting strategic management practices is essential. Below are 10 vital practices to counteract SaaS sprawl's negatives, guiding organizations towards a better-managed SaaS setup.

1. Use SaaS Security Tools

Use a secure SaaS management platform for monitoring access, encrypting data, and identifying threats in the SaaS environment. Conduct frequent security checks to find and fix vulnerabilities quickly.

2. Develop Clear SaaS Guidelines

Create structured rules for assessing, approving, and adding new SaaS tools, ensuring only appropriate and authorized applications are used.

3. Perform Regular SaaS Audits

Frequently review the SaaS landscape to spot unnecessary tools, unused subscriptions, and security risks, maintaining control and oversight.

4. Centralize SaaS Management and Procurement

Implement a centralized management approach for SaaS procurement and tool management, ensuring that all applications are vetted, approved, and monitored by the IT department. Centralized procurement streamlines the acquisition process and enhances control.

5. Train and Onboard Employees

Provide thorough training for employees on approved SaaS tools to ensure effective use and reduce the likelihood of adopting unapproved applications.‍

6. Regular Vendor Audits

Regularly evaluate and audit SaaS vendors for adherence to security norms, data protection laws, and service agreements, ensuring a secure and dependable SaaS network.‍

7. Document SaaS Contracts

Keep detailed records of SaaS contracts, covering service terms, costs, and security aspects. This clarity aids in management, minimizes confusion, and supports compliance.‍

8. Authorization Procedure for New Solutions

Set up an official process for approving new SaaS solutions, involving key members and evaluating security, compatibility, and alignment with company objectives.

9. IT Governance and Decision Making

Implement effective IT governance to guide decision-making regarding SaaS adoption, usage, and retirement. A well-defined governance structure ensures that decisions align with overall business objectives.

10. Real-Time Monitoring and Reporting

Use real-time tools to monitor SaaS usage and security, enabling quick response to issues and maintaining a secure, well-managed SaaS setting.

Conclusion

Managing SaaS sprawl effectively is key for reducing costs, improving productivity, and lowering security risks. It's important for businesses to grasp the causes and challenges of SaaS sprawl and use the best practices for a more organized and secure environment.

Centralizing management, enforcing strong security practices, and consistently following established guidelines can effectively mitigate SaaS sprawl. Additionally, a well-planned and carefully managed SaaS strategy is essential to reap its full benefits and prevent the drawbacks of uncontrolled expansion.

FAQs

What are the early signs of SaaS sprawl in an organization?

Early signs of SaaS sprawl include:

  1. Rapid increase in new software subscriptions.
  2. Difficulty in tracking and managing software expenses.
  3. Frequent overlap in software functionalities.
  4. Rising employee complaints about tool complexity.
  5. Noticeable decline in efficient tool usage.

Can SaaS sprawl impact customer experience, and how?

Yes, it can. SaaS sprawl may lead to slower customer service response and inaccuracies in information due to internal delays and data inconsistencies.

How does SaaS sprawl affect small businesses differently from large enterprises?

Small businesses may face immediate budget issues and resource allocation challenges. Large enterprises often deal with complex data security and cross-departmental coordination issues.

What role do employees play in preventing SaaS sprawl?

Employees can help prevent SaaS sprawl by:

  • Following software usage policies.
  • Reporting unnecessary tools.
  • Suggesting improvements in tool usage.

How can organizations balance the need for new SaaS tools with the risk of sprawl?

  1. Evaluating new tools strategically.
  2. Prioritizing tools that can integrate well.
  3. Regularly reviewing tool effectiveness.

How does SaaS sprawl affect remote and hybrid work models?

It causes communication and collaboration issues in remote and hybrid settings due to multiple conflicting systems.

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