The best guide to managing IT for distributed teams
We’ve seen more remote work from home across all industries, with growth in tech, media, and shipping verticals, and other industries essentially shutting down. This change has particularly hit IT and created the question of how to manage SaaS and software for an organization in a very different environment.
Over the last few months, as the world has changed, we’ve seen a dramatic impact on our customers, their businesses, and how they’re run. We wanted to share with you some of what we’ve seen on how to best manage and deal with these changes. Here’s a short guide to managing IT in the age of work-from-home.
It’s no question that the Coronavirus Pandemic has had a dramatic effect on how businesses operate. We’ve seen more remote work from home across all industries, with growth in tech, media, and shipping verticals, and other industries essentially shutting down. This change has particularly hit IT and created the question of how to manage SaaS and software for an organization in a very different environment.
Key IT trends are accelerating
A recent tweet by Aaron Levie, the founder and CEO of Box.com, highlighted some of these impacts:
This is a brief overview of how IT strategies are changing overnight: From some cloud software to an all-cloud environment, from trusted devices only to any device, from protecting the perimeter to no perimeter – supporting people on home WiFi – from monolithic tools to best of breed applications. From thinking about UX as secondary to UX above all and thinking about the shift from a traditional world of employees to a more extended enterprise.
Technology early adopters have been living in this future for a while, but now most companies are forced into that same reality. These changes are difficult for IT, because the remote first, work from home and decentralized nature that we’re living in now has broken a lot of traditional IT processes. Historically there was a lot of centralization around IT into a command and control environment. Now, with workforces distributed, we’re seeing that really break apart as businesses work through a much more decentralized and organic approach to managing technology and visibility.
As a result of that, we’re seeing a lot of internal challenges because these processes have not been pressure tested. They’re being implemented quickly across organizations because they are necessary, but they haven’t been tested and refined. This is causing a few consistent issues:
- IT not feeling in control
- Organizations struggling to execute new processes
- Overall lack of SaaS visibility
- The need for tools to help manage a more distributed and decentralized environment.
In the new world, we see a bigger risk for unknown or unapproved apps with fewer controls, especially outside the perimeter, outside of controlled devices and you’re potentially having a lot of risk of wasting money without these controls.
New IT priorities
Saving money on SaaS
In an age of distributed workforces, we’re seeing spend on SaaS rise rapidly. And, with cash flows tightening, organizations are placing a much higher priority on saving money across the board and in particular on SaaS apps. SaaS can often be the third biggest line-item expense in a company after employees and an office. It’s, therefore, a natural place to look at to be able to save money to extend runway and create some operational flexibility.
SaaS saving tips
Here are some practical tips to think about how an organization can go ahead and save some money on their SaaS applications:
1. Do a SaaS audit. The first part of this is to inventory and understand key vendors, how much you’re spending on them, what’s the usage? This audit creates a foundation for a data-driven approach to spend optimization. You can look at typically some of the bigger line items within your SaaS applications and know based on that audit and inventory how to go down and approach that list.
To get this audit you should leverage multiple data sources, typically export data from a finance system to get some of the vendors you’re paying for. You can also survey users and team leaders to get not just the list of apps they’re using, but also some additional insights into how they’re using these across the organization. This SaaS data tends to be a very natural place to start giving you visibility to identify some ways to actually optimize spending.
2. Once you have that audit in place, a great place to look at is how do you identify or eliminate orphan subscriptions? We see a lot of companies that have subscriptions that they’re still paying for, but perhaps the champion left the company and it was never canceled when they left the company. Now you have these zombie subscriptions still being paid for on a monthly basis or even annual basis that are really not being used. The SaaS audit can help you identify those by identifying ways to have subscriptions, but if you ask around the company and nobody claims it, that is a good candidate to be orphaned.
3. Another step is to reclaim underutilized licenses. Maybe you bought a pack of 100, but you only need 80 of them, to go back and reduce your license count. Similarly, you can remove unneeded users that may have a license but haven’t been using it in a while because it’s not as critical to their role. Another way to think about optimizing spend is to potentially drop a tier if the features in a given tier are not needed. This depends on getting involvement from the team leaders in terms of understanding whether a particular feature set is critical or not.
4. Lastly, think about potential vendor or app consolidation. A lot of SaaS applications might have overlapping features or products might have similar use cases. This might be a little bit more involved in terms of understanding where those overlaps are, but you might want to think about that if saving money is important. The final step would be to actually negotiate with vendors. A lot of vendors are very aware of the pressure that businesses are under and reaching out and talking to them is probably a good way to actually find some ways to save some money.
Managing a remote + WFH workforce
With a huge swath of the country working from home and reducing travel to a minimum, the ability for an organization to manage employees, devices, and software “outside the perimeter” becomes a priority. The primary and most important step in this process is visibility. It’s one thing for an IT department to gather data on software, device, and network usage when all of the above are company property, but when we’re all using our own networks and devices, that data begins to spread in unmanageable ways. Using a SaaS management platform like Blissfully will provide the necessary visibility into your IT environment to be able to manage efficiently and effectively.
Preparing and managing potential layoffs
As workforces distribute, there are often changes to the team. A few tips here as you’re thinking about them: It’s critical to work with legal, HR and management to create a strategy, not just how to execute the layouts, but what’s the long-term business strategy of it? Does this extend runway by X months to put the company on a better trajectory to survive long term? See if the payroll protection plan in the new government stimulus is applicable to you and obviously consult your lawyers and counsel there. Then think about the model and how it’s changing based on new assumptions. Week-to-week we’re seeing different reports on the economy, on health and it’s important to take that into account on a regular basis.
Another consideration is the actual offboarding process. You’ll want to do this upfront so that you have a clear process with checklists and key stakeholders so that you can run this process in a smooth and repeatable way. The type of things that you need to think of when doing that process is: freezing account access, leveraging IT automation where possible, making sure you want to backup account emails and files so you don’t lose any sensitive data and probably identifying the transfer of SaaS billing ownership so that you don’t create more orphan subscriptions that we were talking about earlier.
Recommendations for Today’s IT
Approach IT collaboratively
It’s important to be proactive about IT in this age of uncertainty. The traditional notion that everything is centralized and expected of IT has to change. IT must become much more collaborative in this decentralized remote world. Now what does that look like? We think of some of the traditional differences between traditional IT and collaborative IT and how we think about it. Let’s start with app selection.
Traditional vs. Collaborative IT
Traditionally IT budget was controlled by IT and finance, with adjustments coming during annual renewal cycles. Now it tends to be much more fluid, as teams make decisions on-the-fly and on their own. This can be a double-edged sword if you’re thinking of cutting costs.
To summarize, an IT process that used to be fairly rigid, inflexible, and localized, is now broadened into something collaborative and distributed. The tools that managed IT in traditional IT such as ticketing systems and spreadsheets just aren’t built for today’s environment. That’s why we built Blissfully. (See our guide to Collaborative IT)
Beyond just the approach of traditional IT versus collaborative IT, it’s important to think about how you actually collaborate. What are the roles for different people across the entire company? Let’s walk through some of those.
A working example: app selection
Historically app selection has been centralized around IT with some finance involvement, but in a collaborative IT world, team leaders and individual employees have a lot more say about choosing the apps that are relevant to their job function. Consider visibility: traditionally IT had visibility because everything went through IT. It was very centralized. Now in this collaborative shared world, the visibility becomes even more important, and yet, it’s harder for IT to get complete data on a software environment that’s being distributed away from them. At the same time, it’s also important for IT to have a different attitude towards employees sourcing their own software (shadow IT) when workforces are distributed. It’s not about eliminating shadow IT at the perimeter, but instead, it’s about understanding the choices employees are making and what users are actually doing to be able to support them in a very different environment that they’re used to working in.
Security and compliance has historically been about tight controls enforced with very strict security and compliance teams. Now you need to do this outside the perimeter on non-trusted devices. This means cloud-first security and compliance that supports how people are actually working now, and that shares these responsibilities, working with IT and the rest of the organization to enforce controls from afar.
Collaborative roles throughout the company
The role of IT in a collaborative IT environment is to understand the SaaS management program. What’s the company’s approach to SaaS and how do you manage that? Help provide guidance to team leaders when choosing tools. Some industries might have much stricter security and compliance needs than others. It’s IT’s job to help communicate that to people so they can choose the tools that are consistent with the organization’s needs. Finally, IT is the one that’s coordinating with finance on budget and HR to coordinate the on and offboarding processes, which are even more difficult today because it’s so distributed.
Finance has a very key role in the collaborative IT environment by helping manage approved budgets, reviewing spending and obviously managing contracts and renewals. In an age of trying to optimize budgeting, that renewal process is very critical. HR and people ops has a shared responsibility with IT to get new employees up and running, on and offboarded really quickly and smoothly. One of the big goals of onboarding smoothly is getting them access to the apps they need to do their job. Most people in a knowledge economy are doing most of their work in a SaaS application day-to-day. Similarly, for off-boarding, it’s really critical to do that in a secure and time-effective way in order to minimize wasted cost and security risks. We’ll come back to some of those offboarding tips.
Team leaders in our view have a very key role in a collaborative IT environment, much more so than in a traditional world. They are often the ones on the frontline choosing and evaluating tools that are the best fit for the type of job that they’re doing. They are oftentimes now responsible for managing their team budgets, for actually implementing and rolling these tools out to their teams and to make sure there isn’t overlap or waste across different tools. Sometimes the challenge is they may not have the visibility of what other teams are doing. It becomes a little bit of a challenge for an organization to navigate that, but there’s no question that team leaders have a big role.
Engineering is obviously the one that’s helping integrate SaaS and dev ops tools. They are often managing APIs, oftentimes internal company APIs to different applications and typically have access to much more sensitive information and customer data via the production databases. It’s really critical that engineering is doing a good job of managing access to that sensitive data. The security team, they’re sending controls via permission and authentication and reviewing these logs and protocols on a regular basis. Legal is helping to review contracts.
Finally, individual employees are actually part of this collaborative IT environment. They’re the ones that are using the SaaS applications and doing their work in a SaaS product. There also often should be giving input about these products to their managers, to IT and how they like them. With fewer controls, you have to put more responsibility and trust onto individual employees to follow the guidelines on security compliance and other best practices, therefore it’s important to educate them. In our view, in a collaborative IT world, IT doesn’t need to go it alone and they shouldn’t. It’s important to get all these key stakeholder holders involved in managing IT and setting up the organization for success.
Create a game plan to save on SaaS
1. Audit your SaaS: Review all your vendors, identify key renewals, analyze usage if possible, and survey your team to see what they need or don’t. >Blissfully can start this process with you right now!
2. Optimize your subscriptions: After your audit you’ll likely find un-used subscriptions, underused licenses, or product tiers your might not be using, all low hanging fruit for ways to save.
3. Consolidate apps and vendors: Your audit will likely also find product or vendor overlaps, enabling you to consolidate apps or vendors.
4. Negotiate with your vendors: Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to your SaaS vendors to ask for discounts or other helpful terms, especially if your company or industry is particularly hard hit.
Create a plan for offboarding
Waiting to close down email accounts, change passwords, or revoke access to proprietary platforms and resources leaves the company open to security breaches. It can also create confusion and communication roadblocks. Work with IT to promptly reset the employee’s accounts, including:
- Removing employee access to email and other systems and internal platforms
- Changing passwords to any company accounts the employee had access to
- Notifying relevant teams or points of contact of the personnel change
- Moving billing/usage ownership of the employees tools to a new owner
- Redirecting emails and calls to the new employee/point of contact
- Removing the employee from company calendars and meetings