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SaaS sprawl is killing productivity. Here’s how to fix it

If you tally up how many SaaS apps your organization is using, you start to realize how easy it is for SaaS sprawl to get out of hand. Research by Productiv found that companies are using 254 apps and tools on average.

This means your team members are probably spending lots of time switching between different tools, learning to use new apps, and sorting through notifications — some of which won’t be relevant to them. In other words, SaaS sprawl is killing productivity. It's time to reign it in.

What is SaaS sprawl?

SaaS sprawl is when an organization builds up a very large SaaS tool stack without properly vetting or managing them. As a result, they end up with more tools than they can reasonably manage, harming productivity and draining resources. 

It often creeps up on organizations over time. To understand why this happens, we first need to consider how companies use off-the-shelf SaaS solutions. 

Since SaaS apps are designed for the provider's general audience — and not your company specifically — they might lack important features you need. When this happens, it's natural to add more tools to your stack, to fill the gaps. In large organizations this happens many times over, as different teams have their own way of working and tool stacks.

The fact that company leaders don't always know how these tools are being used can make things worse. In fact, Productiv’s report revealed that only 45% of registered accounts actively use the SaaS tools their company provides, but leaders often lack the visibility to identify and address this wastage.

How SaaS sprawl harms productivity

Our research with Cornell University revealed that SaaS sprawl is killing productivity in multiple ways, hampering our ability to manage, access, share, and create knowledge at work.  

Finding important information has become difficult

  • Software tools should make it easier for users to manage and find information, but our research has shown that employees spend an average of five hours a week searching for information inside apps. Worse yet, 54% of the people we surveyed said that these different applications actually make it harder for them to find the information they need.
  • People are spending too much time browsing through project management tools, cloud storage, and chat logs, when this time could be better spent working productively.

Context switching is deterring focused work

  • Context switching is when you move from one task to another. It can often happen when you toggle between tabs, switch apps, or even change conversations. The more apps you’re using, the more you’re constantly switching between them, which can seriously impede your ability to focus.
  • In our research with Cornell University, we learned that people take around nine and a half minutes to get back into a good workflow after switching apps. And since they spend 36 minutes a day switching between tasks, it’s safe to say that their workflow is constantly being disrupted. It should come as no surprise, then, that 45% of the people we surveyed said that context switching was making them less productive.

Too many tools can create information silos

  • SaaS sprawl is not only harming productivity on an individual level, but our research revealed that it may also deepen departmental silos. Some 57% of surveyed users reported that they're not sure that all departments are using the same apps. While the sales team is centered around a CRM, the content team might be working on a project management tool, and the customer service team could be using yet another system.
  • This becomes especially problematic when teams need access to data from different departments. Unsurprisingly, 55% of people indicated that it's difficult to get information from other departments when they use different apps, and 56% of employees have to ask more than one person for help when they're trying to access data from the company's tool stack. 

How to get your SaaS sprawl under control

Software is supposed to make work easier, not more complicated. It's time to win back your team's productivity by reducing software bloat. Here’s how.

Start with a tool audit
The first step toward getting your software bloat under control is to conduct a thorough technical audit. If you're not directly responsible for your organization's tool stack, you'll want to ask your IT or operations team to audit the following:

  • Which SaaS apps your organization is using
  • The subscription costs for each app
  • How often team members are using each app (many SaaS providers let you see your usage limits, otherwise, you'll need to talk to team members directly to get this information)
  • The renewal plans for each app

It’s also worth talking to team members and department heads directly to potentially uncover "shadow tools" — the ones that teams are using without approval. 

Talk to your team members
Each team may have different needs and pain points and individual employees will have their own issues. So when you talk to them directly, you can uncover valuable information to help reduce your SaaS sprawl.

For example, are people using different project management tools? Did one person find Asana difficult to set up, while another couldn't wrap their head around Notion's blank-slate approach? Is someone else logging all their tasks on a personal Todoist account?

In some teams, you might also discover that people are using multiple tools with overlapping functionality because each app lacks a specific feature they need.

Centralize your tool stack
After collecting and organizing the information about your tool stack, you'll likely realize any combination of the following:

  • Your teams are using too many tools, including many that are similar​
  • Some tools aren't seeing much use and are draining budgets
  • People aren't on the same page about the apps they're using
  • There isn't a lot of visibility into your tool stack

After conducting your audit, start by getting different teams' buy-in to reduce sprawl. They might not realize the full impact of SaaS sprawl until you walk them through it, so it’s crucial to get them onside, especially given there might be a bit of disruption during the transition.  

Then, it's time to start centralizing your tool stack. See if you can get your teams to use one project management tool, one knowledge management system, one app for tracking metrics and KPIs, and so on. 

However, you might find that it’s still hard to find tools that meet everyone's needs. If so, you might want to consider using custom software (more on this in the next section).

Consider the value of custom software
Unlike off-the-shelf tools that are designed for general audiences, custom software is tailored to the way your organization works. It's built around your workflows and needs, and uses the same terminology that your teams do internally. 

With custom software, you can radically simplify your tool stack by creating a tailor-made solution that meets your company’s precise needs, instead of switching between multiple apps for different features. 

Traditionally, custom software like this has been far too expensive to design, build, and maintain for most companies, and it often takes a long time to implement. Qatalog has made custom software accessible to almost any business, at a fraction of the time and cost.

With Qatalog, you can replace the stack of generic project management tools, knowledge bases, document editors, and task managers that don't reflect the way your teams work. In its place, you’ll get a made-to-measure platform with all the functionality you need in one place, which you can customize to fit your specific requirements, with no code required. It’s a unifying software layer that runs across your entire business and integrates seamlessly with specialized tools like Figma, GitHub, and Salesforce. 

The best part? Getting started with Qatalog takes less than a minute. Just let us know what kind of business you're in, and our AI powered software builder will create a single, centralized Work Hub to run your company’s operations in seconds, tailored to your needs. 

To find out more how Qatalog can help centralize your company operations and streamline your tool stack, book a call with our Customer Team

Product Marketing Manager @ Qatalog
Lorena is a Product Marketing Manager at Qatalog, focusing on customer communication, education, and retention; so you will probably come across her in your inbox at some point. When not crafting copy, you will often find her traveling around or at a concert.
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