Taming the SaaS vortex: A Vendr Fireside Chat with Datadog's Michelle Vita

SaaS Buying

At DPW Amsterdam 2022, Vendr talked with Head of Procurement Michelle Vita to cover procurement automation, agility, and ways to empower stakeholders. Check out the highlights.

Written by

Belynda Cianci

Published on

October 6, 2022

October 26, 2022

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With the explosion of SaaS, staying ahead of SaaS Procurement and ensuring a lean tech stack has never been more challenging. Procurement professionals work daily to tame the “SaaS vortex” and ensure they maintain value as they add complexity and license volume to the stack. This has forced an evolution in Procurement and new approaches for professionals managing the software buying process. 

Michelle Vita is well-versed in this evolution. As a procurement professional with over a decade of building procurement processes for business, Michelle’s career has evolved from traditional procurement roles in private real estate development to high-tech roles in real estate technology and SaaS. Most recently, Michelle took the reins as Head of Procurement for cloud-scale monitoring and security firm Datadog. 

At the recent Digital Procurement World conference, Michelle took the time to sit down with Vendr’s KR Barron to talk about taming the SaaS vortex and building a supportive, sustainable procurement practice for Datadog. She shared her insights on team-building, growing an agile organization, and empowering your stakeholders. 

We’ve captured the highlights from the session below. 

How team cooperation helped Datadog tame the vortex

Michelle has spent three and a half years at Datadog evolving the Procurement team from a “department of one” into a thriving, progressive team with operational and strategic mandates. 

During that time, she’s come to believe the heart of a progressive, strategic Procurement function is its people.

“There are two types of Procurement personas now,” she explains.

“Classic, traditional procurement professionals, with a 7-step process, etc. Then there’s the new procurement professional. They’re more strategic and agile, more a jack-of-all-trades. The industry, in general, is evolving toward this model.”

These young, powerful professionals and the explosion of SaaS have brought about this new breed of procurement professionals. 

These new professionals are also changing the way their stakeholders think about SaaS. They’re empowering employees to negotiate on behalf of their company to buy the right tools, with the perspective of “buying as if you were the owner of the company.” 

Michelle describes her own team at Datadog in these terms. Her first hire came by way of an internal candidate who already understood the procurement process from the stakeholder perspective. Michelle described this agile-focused colleague as “one of the best hires I’ve ever had.” This versatility has allowed them to grow with the team, take on new projects, and execute effectively. 

Since that first hire, Procurement at Datadog has evolved into a two-pronged department, with members focused on both operations and strategy. The team includes progressive-thinking procurement and contracts experts who leverage technology to educate stakeholders, create good policy, and create a seat at the table for Procurement.

Buy with intention

The economic uncertainty of 2022 has ushered in a more measured approach to buying than in previous years. Even as SaaS has become more challenging to optimize, being strategic about your business cases and volume has a positive impact on the software budget. 

Where once the rationale was to buy “as many licenses as we can move into someday,” Michelle and Datadog stick to a strategic, “buy as you go” license approach that helps the team save money and be more conservative. Having licenses waiting on the shelf for someday “is money that goes to waste.” 

The temptation is to buy the number of licenses you’ll need for a future date, incentivized by the perceived savings of a volume discount. But, “taking advantage of a discount isn’t good if they’re just sitting on a shelf unused,” reminds Michelle. 

Instead, the team has become more focused on getting the licenses they need for the current team. Procurement has also focused on the best management of those tools, performing license audits, and ensuring proper utilization. They’ve also gotten more strategic about tier levels. Datadog assigns top-tier licenses for some power users and viewer licenses for others that are cheaper. 

Strive for agility and automation

When faced with a lack of resources—be it budget, headcount, or data— Procurement is tasked with applying agility to the procurement process. Michelle is always on the lookout for places to reduce human activity.

“I’m a huge supporter of relieving the team of administrative burdens that don’t add value.”

To do this, the Procurement team looks at the end-to-end process, identifies those processes taking up human touch and time, and automates them.

The team has turned once onerous processes into touchless processes that reduce friction in day-to-day operations. For instance, vendor follow-ups used to take up considerable time for the team. Now, those processes are controlled by Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Bots now perform a follow-up workflow for outstanding items, allowing procurement to focus on higher-level tasks.

“Agility is important, but also [means] working with our partners, establishing relationships, and using them to grow.” 

The contract process also slowed down internal progress, so the team found ways to reduce friction and remove human intervention from the process. By integrating their contract system with an e-signature tool, they can move contracts for review to Legal automatically, collect signatures, and speed up the contract execution process. 

Agility relies on partnerships, so as part of the legal contracts automation, the Procurement team worked with vendors to use internal paper for contracts. Using an internal template that is acceptable to vendors gives the legal team more control over the review process and speeds up the time to completion. 

Empower your stakeholders

Stakeholder education plays a huge role in creating a collaborative, functional relationship between procurement and the larger organization. The key, says Michelle, is to empower stakeholders with just the information they need to execute. 

The Datadog team invested time and resources in ensuring stakeholders had what they needed to learn the ropes. While the company had some resources in place, “Sometimes you need resources for various types of people since everyone learns differently.” 

The road to better stakeholder education started with a conversation. “We gathered stakeholder feedback from a survey on our processes.” The team issued an anonymous survey asking users to give their feedback about the purchasing process and the resources available to them. 

“Training kept coming up and coming up.” 

The team realized that even though resources were out there, the onboarding of those resources could be improved. “Our internal team feedback… kept coming up that people were starting [at the company] and not watching the videos.” Those conversations allowed the Procurement team to identify the issues and develop a plan. 

Automation has a part to play in the empowerment process, as well. “We wanted to empower stakeholders to do things that don’t require procurement touch.” To help stakeholders gain confidence in buying on behalf of the company, Michelle and the team implemented a guided help service for users.

Modeled on the “Clippy” office assistant featured in Microsoft Office, the procurement assistant program sits on top of the Procurement system, providing helpful pop-ups for users as they engage with the UI and perform routine tasks. If the user gets stuck or needs assistance, the assistant robot guides them through the process with a “click here” approach. This allows stakeholders to self-service needs without relying on procurement team members directly. 

Ideas such as these allow Procurement to remove itself from the areas where it doesn’t add value while still maintaining agility for the wider team. From there, they can develop stronger relationships between departments, gain a strategic seat at the table, and ensure that once they have that position, they can deliver value.  

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For more tips on driving an enablement, people-first approach in your Procurement practices, take the advice of Sören Petsch, Head of Procurement at CommerceHub.

After all, “If Procurement is the Cost Savings Department, we break the trust of our internal stakeholders all the time.”

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