Some of the most detrimental (and invisible) resource drains on your startup are SaaS sprawl, shadow IT, and the downstream information sprawl that comes with them.
As your enterprise scales, shadow IT crops up when departments start deploying tech that falls outside your central information systems. This leads to SaaS sprawl, an ever-growing number of software licenses that either overlap, are underused, or become unmanageable.
While teams benefit from autonomy and personalized tooling, it inevitably becomes a headache for the CIO, CISO, or Head of IT. To stop the sprawl in its tracks, read on as we dive into:
- Why SaaS sprawl has worsened in the last decade
- The costly impacts of downstream information sprawl
- A three-step solution for managing the sprawl
How the Rise of SaaS Led to Information Sprawl
Today, many enterprises are experiencing SaaS sprawl, owing to the proliferation of SaaS tooling over the last decade. This is driven by two major trends:
- The shift to cloud-based B2B software and the consumerization of enterprise software — Instead of waiting for centralized enterprise solutions to get approved, managers turn to tools that anyone can download and install through consumer channels.
- Hyper-specific tools for every workflow — We see company-wide apps (Confluence, Slack, GSuite) on top of endless function-specific apps (Zendesk or Intercom for user support, Salesforce or Salesloft for sales, etc.).
Nathan Cohen experiences this daily at Endeavor Global as their Senior Director of People & Product. His role can be broken down into two buckets:
- Building and maintaining software to serve Endeavor’s global community
- Enabling 500+ staffers to function efficiently via culture, comms, and tech
Both are complicated because Endeavor functions out of 40+ offices — from Vietnam to Tunisia to Pakistan — to service their network of 1,500+ entrepreneurs and 5,000+ mentors across 30+ countries.
Over the decades, they’ve accumulated a multitude of tools, leading to institutional knowledge scattered across numerous knowledge bases.
And they’re not alone on this front. Enterprise research reports demonstrate that:
- Most organizations estimate they deploy 200–300 SaaS apps; the average organization deploys over 600
- The number of SaaS apps utilized by the average company grows 10% YoY
Basic Options for Managing SaaS Sprawl
Luckily, some basic tooling exists to streamline and counter certain areas of SaaS sprawl.
- SSO — Single sign-on solutions such as Okta, Azure AD, and OneLogin
- Workflow automation — Leaders include Zapier and Tray.io
- SaaS Discovery — Zylo, Torii, and BetterCloud promise to save up to 20% on SaaS spend
- Life-cycle management — BetterCloud powers end-to-end SaaS ops
- Vendor management — Vendr calls itself a “SaaS buying platform.”
“Endeavor includes 40+ offices in 30+ countries, from Indonesia to Kenya to everywhere in between. That leads to a lot of disjointed institutional knowledge.” - Nathan Cohen, Senior Director of People & Product at Endeavor Global.
Invisible Case Study: Scrambling to Find Key Information
Invisible is a tech-enabled outsourcing service trusted by industry leaders like Grubhub and Canon to scale ops and cut costs. They’re also a Dashworks customer and swear by our search functionality to make it easier to find essential information across multiple company functions.
We sat down with Adam Haney, their VP of Engineering, to dive deep into how Dashworks’ intelligent search tool centralized information at Invisible.
Invisible's product works at the intersection of business process outsourcing and automation. They rely on a global workforce of 1,000+ remote contractors across every time zone.
In particular, they often handle large-scale data processing tasks for client companies (i.e., digitizing menus for several of the largest delivery apps on the market).
As such, Invisible’s teams deal with massive volumes of Google Drive and Notion docs, and info across Jira, Confluence, and GitHub, among other tools in their stack.
Juggling this amount of data has led to two prominent pain points.
1. Tabbing: A Scattered Approach to Project Data
An easy method for locating internal info didn't exist, so Invisible tried its hand at creating one.
They began linking more necessary documents through Notion and leveraging its built-in search
function. It was effective — to an extent.
People still had to tab between different apps whenever a file type wasn’t supported by Notion. Also, any engineering info would still have to be searched for on GitHub or Jira.
While Notion is a great app, it wasn't created to function as an immersive search tool.
2. The Cognitive Overload of Dead-End Searches
Tabbing and Notion searching built up into a massive time suck. For every search, it took time to locate the app with the desired info and even more time to contextualize it.
Endless searching also leads to cognitive overload over time, as an existential question always lurks in the background: "Does the info I'm looking for even exist?"
Ultimately, every time-wasting search adds a greater cost to the project.
"Transparency is a core value at Invisible, but it's only meaningful if people have the tools to find the specific information they want and need."
Why SaaS Sprawl Creates an Ongoing Cost Center
Down the line, SaaS sprawl leads directly to information sprawl. These information silos have major contributions to productivity loss:
- Annually, individuals spend 13 weeks tracking information down across apps
- They spend 7 weeks waiting on co-workers to answer questions
- They spend 5 weeks toggling between apps and reorienting
- They spend 6 weeks duplicating already existing work
These silos don’t just slow employee progress. They also create silos that hamper cross-team collaboration. When teams don’t have visibility into each other’s work, it leads to:
- Misalignment in cross-team projects
- An overhead tax on communication
- Localized decision-making
SaaS Sprawl Makes Onboarding Costly & Time-Consuming
The Endeavor team has especially witnessed the resource drain of decentralized data and information sprawl through inefficient onboarding flows.
While decentralization has long been a strength for Endeavor to cover as much ground as possible, it also results in scattered institutional knowledge and a lack of quality control.
According to Nathan, onboarding could hugely vary from location to location: “If [a hire] is at an Endeavor office with highly structured onboarding, it’s seamless. However, they could get nothing if they’re at another location with no institutional wisdom being passed on.”
Without the ability to tap into a centralized source of Endeavor knowledge, account managers essentially have to rebuild the onboarding experience — over and over again.
It’s time wasted on onboarding rather than strengthening existing relationships.
Existing Solutions & Internal Builds Can’t Fix SaaS Sprawl
Unfortunately, no stand-out tech solutions for managing information sprawl have been available.
As such, teams try to establish internal solutions to deal with it. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t go well — mainly due to the necessary overhead and daily maintenance.
The PandaDoc team knows this all too well.
According to Maria Ermakovich, a technical writer in PandaDoc’s R&D department, the company previously relied on Coda to create and house accessible, all-inclusive documents.
However, once updates to these docs became less frequent, they sank to the bottom of team members’ feeds and became difficult to locate, even if the information was still valuable.
So, they attempted to build an internal, Dashworks-like solution to facilitate discovery.
While this system saw early success, it quickly fell apart due to required overhead (i.e., needing to hire an in-house dev team to keep this complex engine up-to-date).
- Engineering lift — To build an in-house search engine, a company has to create every connector individually. With Dashworks, 43+ connectors are included out of the box.
- Cost in capital & labor — Diving deeper, it took our Dashworks engineers an average of 100 hours to build one new connector (about $5,000 spent on each connector). Most companies cannot shoulder that cost on top of daily ops.
“We couldn’t begin to imagine an information hierarchy because we had seven years and hundreds of iterations of design teams and resources to work with.” - said Aaron Spence, Director of Culture & Talent Development at Design Pickle.
To Stop Information Sprawl, Centralize Your Data Streams
For Design Pickle’s team, handling SaaS and data sprawl required a magic-bullet solution.
According to Aaron Spence, Design Pickle’s Director of Culture & Talent Development, the company had been scaling so quickly that they didn’t have time to consolidate their stack or set up centralized, searchable information systems.
After 5+ years of files and resource management, they needed to organize what already existed tactically — to create a one-stop shop for information.
In Aaron’s words, they needed the equivalent of a corporate second brain.
How to Solve Your Data Sprawl in 30 Minutes
To start centralizing your information sprawl, Dashworks recommends the following magic-bullet solution.
This three-step flow takes 30 minutes or less. Afterward, you’ll have found the holy grail of knowledge management: a single, searchable source of truth for your company.
Here’s the 3-step process to getting started:
- Connect and unify your stack (30 minutes)
- Index in the background (24 hours)
- Onboard your team
For the Endeavor team, these steps came in an all-in-one solution via Dashworks.
According to Nathan, “[Integration] is literally two or three clicks. And that’s it.” Since implementing Dashworks, he’s been floored by the efficiency, accuracy, and downstream savings driven by Dashworks’ centralized, company-wide search engine.
He details some short- and long-term impacts that come from mitigating information sprawl:
- Reclaiming company time — Nathan considers how many times per day someone searches for a document, which can be extrapolated across an entire work year with 500+ Endeavor employees. As a result, Dashworks winds up saving months of productivity.
- Streamlining global, cross-team efforts — With Dashworks, Endeavor has a unified knowledge source that helps coordinate research and due diligence and connect and share relevant materials ASAP.
The Downstream Benefits of Managing SaaS & Information Sprawl
Ultimately, tech companies can begin managing years of SaaS and data sprawl in just a few steps — made even simpler when you turn to Dashworks.
Long-term gains for your IT team (as well as your broader business) will include:
- Productivity gains
- Faster employee onboarding
- Stronger NPS among employees
- Improved cross-team collaboration
“We were looking at years of institutional knowledge. With Dashworks, that process of knowledge transfer and tooling centralization was completely painless.” - Aaron Spence, Director of Culture & Talent Development at Design Pickle.
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