How to optimize your SaaS application use
May 07 | 9 mins read
When faced with an endless stream of SaaS bills, the temptation is to squeeze costs fast. We recommend squeezing a stress-ball instead, and taking a step-back to look at the bigger picture. Here are some smart ways to get better value, using SaaS optimization: reduce SaaS costs, whilst also increasing the value applications bring to users and your business. If you’ve started doing some SaaS discovery in your business you’ll be aware that a key cost-driver is the number of similar SaaS tools in use. There might be good reasons for keeping these, but there are also benefits to stepping back and looking at ways to reduce the number of applications in use: fewer unused seats, simpler SaaS renewals, and reduced security risks. The right approach to understanding usage and improving SaaS optimization will often depend on the sort of application that’s being used. In this first post we’re going to be looking at SaaS optimization in the context of collaborative task-tracking and project management tools. These include Monday.com, Click-up, Wrike, Jira, Trello and Asana.
How does SaaS application sprawl happen?
Collaborative tools are a great fit for teams looking for a way to plan work together, and see what everyone is working on. Covid-19 has meant more people are working remotely, which has made these tools even more essential.
It’s so easy for employees to get started with a new app. They can sign-up in a browser within minutes and start inviting other team members to join.
Although many of these platforms offer free plans to start, once you hit certain limits you have to pull out a company credit card. In the IT team, you may not even know this is happening because the costs are being expensed, and not necessarily assigned to an IT budget. You can soon find that your business is paying a lot more than is necessary if several teams start separately paying subscription fees.
SaaS vendors have made it easy for users to make decisions about what apps to adopt and proliferate, all without involving procurement or the IT team.
SaaS optimization and the benefits of consolidation
Why encourage people to use one particular platform? Surely one of the benefits of SaaS applications is that staff can pick the tools they like best?
Many IT teams find that it pays (literally!) to spend time understanding what project management tools are being used, and then start looking for ways to standardize on a single product. This has multiple benefits:
- Most vendors are open to offering reduced rates for larger deals. By consolidating SaaS licenses, even for a single application, you can often negotiate a better price.
- When you bring together groups of users, you can often justify upgrading your plan, which gives you additional benefits. This can be a win-win. You and your IT co-workers will be happy because there’s better enforcement of password policies, centralized logging, or single-sign on, and your business-users may find that a paid plan gives them better functionality.
- Reducing the number of applications in use will make your organization more efficient. People won’t have to remember which application is used for which project – they’ll be able to see all their tasks in the same dashboard. Increased familiarity with an application also means people develop deeper skills and get better results.
The first step: how to deprovision users
Moving people from one application to another isn’t to be taken lightly, so a simple first step is to optimize the number of seats you are paying for existing applications.
People may have signed up to multiple tools over time, and forgotten that they’ve got a paid seat on something they started using a while ago.
The process of trimming-back unused seats doesn’t just reduce costs, but it gives you a better understanding of how well used different applications are, and gives you a more accurate sense of the number of people who need access to a collaboration tool.
Your starting point is the user list page in each application, which with some luck shows the last login date for each user. This will tell you who is actually using the tool. You can often export this to Excel and sort it.
You’ll want to decide some rules about what constitutes an unused account – it might vary from product to product, but active use of a collaborative tool would generally be shown by a login within the last 30 days.
OK, so you’ve identified some unused accounts, so the next step is just to deactivate them, right…?
Deprovisioning is a much more subtle process. You need to understand two key things:
- Has the user really stopped using the tool? Maybe they just use it once a year for a specific annual job like end-of-year reporting?
- What happens to the user’s data when you deprovision them?
You should always reach out to users who haven’t logged in for a while and ask them if they are still using the application: there’s nothing worse than needing to get into a tool urgently and finding that IT have pulled the plug on your account.
If you email users, it’s worth putting in a back-stop to say that if they don’t reply, you will go ahead and deprovision their account. This doesn’t completely cover you: for example they might miss the email, or might be off work long-term. Whether you make further efforts to contact someone probably depends on what happens when you deactivate them.
The consequences of deprovisioning can be drastic, and you may need to dig into documentation, and ideally test this in each SaaS tool you use.
Here’s a few of the common ways deprovisioning works:
- The account is just marked inactive. The user can’t login but no data is altered, and the account can be re-enabled at any point.
- As above, but after a period of time (e.g. 30 days), data linked to the user is automatically deleted.
- Data is reassigned to another user. In Box for example, files and folders linked to a user can be transferred to another user. In Asana, any tasks that the user is involved in become assigned to you. In this case you may want to set up a separate admin account for doing deprovisioning so that your personal account isn’t swamped with tasks from users you are deprovisioning.
SaaS management tools like Trelica can help you with these sorts of processes. For example they often have deprovisioning workflows. This typically includes automatically flagging users who could be deprovisioned, notifying them by email, and handling their responses. It might also go as far as specific best-practice actions for different applications. For Asana it might assign tasks to a user’s manager, instead of the admin user doing the deprovisioning.
If you have a decent sized user base, and a number of applications in use, a SaaS management tool can save you a lot of time, and avoid mistakes when manually filtering, emailing, following-up and deprovisioning.
How can I persuade users to move to a single collaborative application?
Once you’ve trimmed-back users who aren’t actively using tools, the next SaaS optimization step is to consolidate different subscriptions for the same product, or potentially try to reduce the number of different tools in use.
Go back to basics and really understand user requirements
A good starting point is doing a survey to understand who uses what tools, how they pay for them (e.g. expensed on credit card, free version), and what features they use on a regular basis.
Some SaaS management tools like Trelica can help you create and send surveys like this, but a tool like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms would be a solid alternative.
You might send this survey to everyone in your organization, or you could be more targeted if you know who is using specific applications. If you use Google Workspace then you may have users using ‘Sign in with Google’ to connect to applications. Analyzing these so-called Social logins can tell you what people are using. Again, a SaaS management tool like Trelica can do a lot of this work for you.
Regardless of how you contact people, you will probably need to explain in some detail why you’re asking – you’ll get a better response rate if people understand the reasons and the benefits of everyone working on the same tool. Some arguments that might help:
- Having all company projects and tasks in one place (many users will probably be using multiple tools)
- Better visibility, so management can see where people are overloaded and extra resource is needed
- Improved functionality to make planning more effective, and execution more efficient
Bear in mind that some departments, such as software engineering will still need specialist tracking and planning tools like GitHub, Favro or Jira Software. Even if you’re standardizing everyone on another product, you should call-out teams that need more specialized tools so that people don’t panic.
If you do keep multiple tools, one solution worth looking at is Unito. This is an integrations tool, specific to collaborative applications, that lets you visually define how different sorts of tasks are routed to different applications. A good use-case would be routing support tickets from a helpdesk tool into a specialist software development case-tracking product (and back again).
Plan SaaS consolidation
Once you’ve got a consensus on the tool you want to standardize on, you’ll need to build out a plan for making the move. Some tools can migrate tasks from competing platforms but generally this sort of migration is imperfect, and you’re best aiming to transition people over a period of time. A hard-stop is more likely to meet resistance.
A softer roll-out will mean people having accounts on both their old tool and the new one: new work is done on the new tool, whilst users try to naturally close out existing tasks on the old system.
You should still aim to put in a cut-off date so that it’s clear that the old tool will be going away. The exact timing of this will depend on the specifics of the SaaS contracts for each of the products you’re phasing out. Pay particular attention to the contract term. Month-to-month gives you precise control over when to stop; with an annual renewal you may have more (or less) time to transition people.
Above all, always aim at transparency. If you’re aiming to sunset a product which has an annual renewal coming up, then explain the reason for the rush to migrate away to your users. They’re much more likely to be supportive if you’ve been inclusive and transparent about the reasons for the change.
Aim for incremental change
Finally, if you’ve uncovered three or four similar tools, you will need to think through whether you consolidate them all together, or incrementally.
There’s a temptation to go with a “big-bang” approach and move everyone together. It gets it out of the way and vendor negotiation is easier as you’re increasing the user count in one big step.
The advantage of going one-by-one is that you will learn from the process, and success migrating from one tool can be turned into good-news to share with the users of the others on your list. It also lets you time the change around expiring annual contracts.
If you’ve done your research and know the number of users you will ultimately be moving over, you should consider explaining the incremental plan to the vendor, and still negotiating on the total number being transitioned.
SaaS optimization is most effective when it’s part of a broader, ongoing SaaS management business process.
How do I negotiate the best price for a SaaS application?
SaaS optimization isn’t necessarily about cutting your total number of user licences, rather it’s about consolidating usage and getting better value by managing a smaller number of strategic apps. This consolidation might be very good news for one of your SaaS suppliers, so make the most of this opportunity to negotiate the best rate.
You should start talking to suppliers early, especially if there are a couple of potential candidate products. The vendor is less likely to compromise if they know you’re under time pressure.
An obvious, but very effective, technique is to get a cheaper quote from a rival vendor. We’ve heard anecdotally that Asana will reduce their pricing when shown a quote from a direct competitor like Monday.com.
This technique will be most effective if you know how the different plans for different products relate. It shows the sales person that you know what features you need, which plan delivers this, and why a rival product could work for you too.
Your next stop could be our deep-dive on Asana and Monday.com which gives you a flavor of how to compare plans from rival vendors.