Get SaaS management right by preparing for these 3 common hurdles

Iain McGhee

Iain McGhee

Jul 14 | 6 mins read

Topics: IT Strategy, SaaS Optimization, User Engagement

It won’t shock you to hear that - like most business management software - the return on your SaaS management platform investment is very dependent on the quality of your rollout.  So you’ve seen the slick demo with informative reports highlighting the thousands you’re wasting on unused SaaS licenses for Salesforce, Zoom, GitHub etc. Perhaps you played around with a workflow builder in a demo environment and defined automations for reviewing shadow IT, or deprovisioning users. Imagine the time and money your team could save!  In short, you’re seeing a solid business case for SaaS management that brings together immediate, direct cost savings with the promise of ongoing efficiency gains from the automation of your IT ops. It’s surely time to sign-up, turn on the new SaaS management platform, sit back and reap the SaaS optimization rewards? As you might expect, it's not quite that simple. Here are the common challenges we’ve seen with SaaS management platform rollouts, and our tips on how to avoid them.

Hurdle #1 - automation and the expectation vs. reality gap

Slick demos have a way of creating a dangerous gap between expectation and reality. That’s not to say that the demo was deliberately misleading, but it may have highlighted a Goldilocks combination of SaaS optimization variables.

SaaS management automation requires API access to your key business apps. Let’s imagine you’re using Zoom in your business. Great news – Zoom has a fantastic API which shares a user list along with the roles, license plan (enterprise, pro, basic) and date of last login for every user. Their API also shares activity metrics such as the number of ‘pro’ meetings each user is holding. You’ve got all the information you need to identify unused licenses and the corresponding wasted SaaS spend. Finally, Zoom’s API also supports user management, allowing you to downgrade or de-provision those unused licenses via an automation setup in your new SaaS management platform.

If every SaaS app had an API like Zoom’s, life in the IT team would be great. In reality, we find that around 30-40% of apps have an API with user-related endpoints. Of these apps, around half of the APIs will have broad functionality for user activity metrics and user management. To make things more complicated, some apps only offer API availability – or access to specific endpoints – if you’re on a premium plan. It’s nuanced, to say the least.

While availability of APIs is skewed towards the more popular apps, you’re never going to get full coverage for your SaaS inventory.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get value from your SaaS management initiative, but it does mean you need to level your expectations and formulate a plan to get useful information for key apps that lack an API. Perhaps most importantly, you need clarity from your SaaS management vendor on the API availability and quality for your core SaaS inventory.

Our recommendations

  1. Don’t assume that what you’ve seen demonstrated for one application applies to all. Ask your SaaS management vendor for details about the apps that are important to you
  2. Take a pragmatic approach to managing apps without APIs (or APIs you can’t access on your current plan). Focus on high spend apps that have a per-user licensing model
  3. Establish a plan with your SaaS management vendor to account for these API-less, key apps. If you need the user data, it’s invariably going to require some manual intervention and you will want functionality in place to make that as painless as possible

Hurdle #2 - getting buy-in beyond the IT team

You’re going to need input from the wider business to gather all the license details for your SaaS inventory i.e. start / renewal dates, what plan(s) you’re on, the rates you’ve negotiated. Even if the SaaS management vendor is going to enter the license details for you, someone in your business may still need to be tracked down to provide missing details.

This process is likely to involve pulling together dozens of SaaS contracts and order forms that have been squirreled away in PDFs all across your business. You shouldn’t assume that your Head of Sales is in a rush to rummage through the virtual filing cabinet to find the most recent Salesforce contract.

Unfortunately, APIs won’t magically solve this problem. At best, you might get overall license entitlements from an app’s API, but it’s surprisingly uncommon. The other critical details around the license structure, such as your negotiated rates or the renewal date aren’t going to be available via an API.

Magic AI / ML / OCR tools aren’t going to come to the rescue either. Order forms, contracts and MSAs come in wildly different and often byzantine formulations. Extracting that unstructured data from a PDF and translating it into something useful is not going to produce reliable results at scale.

Getting hold of this license information is a very common, early hurdle in the rollout of a SaaS management platform. If you’re one of the lucky few with a nicely organized spreadsheet of SaaS license data, or you’re cutting over from an existing SAM or SaaS management tool, the initial setup is significantly streamlined.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The solution comes down to collaboration with other teams in the business and an understanding of the existing systems / processes you can tap into. Preparing for this hurdle is all about having a realistic take on your current situation and an understanding of what’s possible.

Our recommendations

  1. There’s typically a core of SaaS apps the IT team manages directly, either formally or on a de facto basis. Consider starting with these apps so you get to experience first hand the kind of license information you need and where you’re likely to find it
  2. Establish which teams and systems are currently involved in the onboarding, renewing and modifying of SaaS agreements. Wherever possible, align with these existing processes to avoid duplication of data entry
  3. Look for opportunities to integrate with other systems handling SaaS vendor information in the business e.g. contract management, procure-to-pay, ERP
  4. Consider the messaging when asking for input from the wider business. Make sure you’re introducing your new SaaS management platform and providing context for the request
  5. Encourage company-wide engagement by leveraging an executive sponsor in your messaging

Hurdle #3 - establishing process, not just patches

Now that you’ve invested in putting a SaaS management platform in place, you’re probably going to uncover some ‘shadow IT’ surprises, such as spending on SaaS apps you weren’t aware were even in use, or users granting risky access permissions to personal-use browser extensions. If you’ve not engaged in this kind of SaaS discovery before, you’re going to be playing catch-up. It takes time to work through this information and to make decisions on how to respond.

It’s worth remembering that as you go through the pain of reviewing this first big wave of discovered apps, yet more apps will be arriving in your inbox for review. It’s an opportunity to formulate policies and standardized responses, but at the same time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the short-term workload.

This also applies to your SaaS license details, which are subject to regular change. Without clearly defined process and responsibilities your license information is going to become outdated as agreements get modified or renewed.

The temptation is to make a concerted, tactical push to work through the initial system implementation whilst failing to consider the long term plan for the maintenance and expansion of your SaaS management platform.

Our recommendations

  1. Establish clearly articulated policies for Shadow IT. Do you mind if users are accessing personal use apps / websites with their work credentials? What about granting OAuth access permissions to their work inbox or G / One Drive?
  2. Make sure your SaaS management platform has workflow functionality to automatically apply your policies wherever possible
  3. Assign a point of contact in your IT team to support your application owners. Policies and workflows will throw up exceptions and will need to be reviewed and modified. Similarly, someone needs to check that people are keeping license information up to date.

... and in summary

Getting SaaS management right isn’t as simple as finding a SaaS management vendor and switching their platform on. Aligning your expectations, understanding what’s possible given your SaaS application stack, and getting buy-in outside of the IT team are all critical to getting long-term business value from your SaaS management platform and, more importantly, your SaaS applications.

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