SaaS stack – how to optimize for flexibility
There’s a good chance that at least one of those hot new SaaS apps you’re about to implement organization-wide is going to be replaced in a year. Whether due to acquisition, funding woes, or a well-publicized security breach, some apps simply don’t stand the test of time. Others will serve their purpose for a while but then you need new features, so you make a switch. In still other cases, a product already in use at your organization will expand its feature set to cover the territory of another app; it can be wise at that point to consolidate. Regardless of the reason, the reality for modern businesses is that app turnover is very common. In fact, the typical mid-sized company saw 39% of their SaaS stack change in 2018.
According to our research, it’s safe to assume that within two years, roughly half of your tech stack will be different than it is today. While it’s easy to interpret this as bad news and look for strategies to avoid app turnover as much as possible, we argue a better approach is to embrace change and build your business for SaaS flexibility.
The ease with which your organization can adopt new apps, and switch out old ones, is critical to maintaining a strong technology stack. The rapid pace of change in SaaS feature sets makes it nearly impossible to predict which apps you will keep for the long term, which will disappear, and which ones you’ll want to replace with a better, more innovative option.
Rather than trying to predict the future, focus on optimizing for flexibility and process. This will empower your team leaders to experiment and give your organization leverage to adopt the best tools at any given point in time.
Here’s a look at how to prioritize a flexible SaaS stack at your organization.
Balance risk with innovation in your SaaS stack
Of course, you don’t want to invest in apps that are likely to disappear or become obsolete, so it is worth spending time evaluating whether an app is built for longevity in your organization. The good news is that you can combine this research with other key analyses: security features, compliance compatibility, and availability of integrations. Vendors who check these boxes are more likely to be thinking long-term, and thus more likely to stick around. Ideally, when your SaaS stack changes, it should be on your terms. Doing the upfront homework will increase the odds that an app switch is a proactive choice, not a reactive leap.
Find common ground with integrations
In particular, look for apps that integrate with the ones you already use, since this will ensure that your SaaS stack can be connected for maximum productivity, rather than siloed and walled off. Your team will be able to get the most value out of apps that can share data and piggyback off of each other’s features. This common ground will reduce unnecessary turnover while making it easier to swap apps out when it is truly in the best interest of the organization.
Check those security and compliance boxes
If the apps you choose include common security features (like SSO or 2FA), meet or exceed compliance standards (like GDPR and SOC 2), and integrate nicely with adjacent technologies, the odds are good that your choice will stick around long enough to be worth the time and effort of starting up with it.
Another good way to test the water is to look at the size of the community around a given app. While it can be exciting to be on the cutting edge of trying out a brand new SaaS app, you may not want to be the very first organization (or one of the first organizations) to adopt it, simply because there won’t be a community of folks who have used it enough to develop best practices, or adequate support around the tool.
To evaluate where a product stands in terms of the community around it, you can check out whether they have built a robust and thriving community on their own accord—many apps do. Or, check out their presence on existing communities. If it is a development-related tool, you can also check out developer communities like Stack Overflow, Github, and Reddit to see how active the communities around the app are.
Streamline your app-related processes
Doing your homework is a good first step, but then it’s time to let go and embrace change. To prepare for the inevitable reality of app turnover, it’s a good idea to streamline your app approval, implementation, and removal processes to make them as efficient as possible. This way, when the time comes to make a change, it’s not a massive headache to do so.
To improve your processes, we recommend instituting a decentralized IT management paradigm—what we like to call Collaborative IT. This means that apps can be chosen, purchased, and implemented by team leaders—rather than having every single technology decision carried out by a central IT function. As you can imagine, this dramatically speeds up both implementation and removal of apps, since it removes unnecessary gatekeepers and hurdles. To balance this freedom with security and budgetary controls, seek out a single SaaS system of record that provides visibility into the entire stack for management purposes.
Next, automate as much of the onboarding and offboarding processes as possible, so that new team members can quickly get up and running with every app they need to do their jobs (an average of eight apps per employee), and can be quickly removed if and when they depart the organization to avoid security holes. Automating onboarding and offboarding has the added benefit of making it easier to replace software down the road as needed.
Finally, with the visibility into your SaaS stack we recommend above, you can quickly see exactly who is using an app. This way, you can make sure the entire team understands why you are removing or replacing an app long before it actually goes away. This gives them time to adjust, whether that means porting data and key processes to a new tool or simply wrapping their heads around a new way of working.
Fear not the natural evolution of technology
Apps will come and go, for a whole variety of reasons. The agility with which you can replace apps or add new ones should ultimately propel the pace of innovation at your organization. With the right balance of agility and risk-mitigating controls in place, there’s no real reason to stress out over the reality that half of your tech stack will be different within a couple of years. Of course it will! Out with the old, in with the new, and on with the pace of business.