SaaS is everywhere. And that’s often a good thing (hello, productivity!). However, plenty of shadow IT statistics demonstrate why that’s not always the case and clarify the need for SaaS Ops.

For example, Security Magazine found that 31% of ex-employees still have access to their old employer’s SaaS tools. That stat’s cybersecurity and compliance implications are enough to make a CISO shudder! 

Modern businesses have an interesting challenge: how do you strike the right balance of risk, cost, and productivity with the SaaS strategy? SaaS Ops is emerging as the set of practices designed to solve this problem. Like DevOps before it, this new set of practices can drive real change for organizations that lean in and get it right. 

In this article, we’ll help you hit the ground running with an intro to SaaS ops that includes definitions, challenges (with solutions!), and best practices you can use to drive optimization efforts

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What is SaaS Ops?

SaaS Ops is the set of end-to-end practices for discovering and managing an organization’s SaaS applications. 

As the definition implies, we can divide SaaS practices into two high-level domains:

  • SaaS discovery, which involves determining which SaaS apps are in use.
  • SaaS management, which includes onboarding/offboarding, configuration, reporting, and security.

Given the ubiquity of SaaS apps in modern organizations, SaaS Ops is a key enabler of cost savings, productivity gains, visibility, compliance, and cybersecurity.  

What is the role of SaaS discovery in SaaS Ops?

SaaS Ops teams created SaaS inventories—like what is maintained in Auvik SaaS Management (ASM)—which is the key deliverable from SaaS discovery.
A SaaS inventory—like what is maintained in Auvik SaaS Management (ASM)—is the key deliverable from SaaS discovery.

SaaS discovery enables organizations to find and inventory SaaS applications employees use. Effective SaaS discovery is the cornerstone of effective SaaS Ops because it solves the shadow IT problem.  

Traditional SaaS discovery techniques—like surveys and auditing payment card statements—are typically too inaccurate or time consuming to be practical for modern IT. That’s why many IT departments and MSPs now leverage purpose-built tools for SaaS discovery (more on those tools to come). 

What is SaaS Operations Management?

The terms “SaaS Ops,” “SaaSOps,” and “SaaS operations management” are often used interchangeably in casual conversation. However, SaaS operations management is technically the set of practices that begins post-discovery. Once the business knows about a service, it can begin the processes such as:

  • Ensuring it isn’t duplicating another SaaS app
  • Verifying compliance 
  • Securing and hardening configurations (e.g., implementing the principle of least privilege and configuring role-based access control)
  • Defining and enforcing account lifecycle management and user onboarding/offboarding 
  • Monitoring applications for newly discovered vulnerabilities and business risks 
  • Streamlining accounts and taking advantage of bulk licenses to reduce cost

SaaS Ops teams

Because SaaS Ops is a relatively new domain, it can be challenging to pinpoint who exactly belongs on the “SaaSOps team.”

The exact makeup of a team will vary greatly depending on the size and structure of the organization involved, so think of SaaS Ops team roles through the lens of specific accountabilities.  

Here’s a breakdown of key SaaS ops accountabilities every team should cover:

SaaS Ops accountability DescriptionPossible job titles
Purchasing This SaaS Ops accountability manages SaaS licenses and pays the bills. IT director, purchasing manager, project manager
Configuration, management, and reportingThis SaaS Ops accountability handles the day-to-day SaaS Ops functions such as configuring apps, onboarding/offboarding, generating reports, and training users. IT administrator, cloud engineer, sysadmin 
Security and compliance This SaaS Ops accountability ensures SaaS apps meet security and compliance requirements. Security architect, risk manager, CISO
SaaS app selection and strategyThis SaaS Ops accountability ensures that an organization’s SaaS applications are aligned with technical and business strategy.Cloud architect, IT director, CIO

Must-have SaaS Ops tools

Modern SaaS Ops tools like Auvik SaaS Management (ASM) can integrate with web browsers and identity providers for SaaS discovery.
Modern SaaS Ops tools like Auvik SaaS Management (ASM) can integrate with web browsers and identity providers for SaaS discovery.

Legacy approaches to SaaS management, like auditing DNS records or manual surveys, aren’t the best. Once you reach the size where SaaS management becomes a concern, dedicated SaaS operations software can help you implement an effective SaaS Ops strategy. 

SaaS management platforms are the go-to tools for modern SaaS ops teams, and there are multiple options on the market.

Here are the key SaaS operations software features to look for as you evaluate different  tools:

  • Robust SaaS discovery. Solutions that integrate with web browsers and identity providers (IdPs) are more accurate and scalable than alternatives that depend on technology like email. 
  • Reporting. If you’re not assessing, you’re not progressing! Look for SaaS tools that enable you to report on metrics such as managed vs. unmanaged apps (to keep an eye on shadow IT), security issues, user behavior, and product adoption. For MSPs, look for solutions that offer reports you can directly integrate into quarterly business reviews (QBRs) to demonstrate value. 
  • SaaS lifecycle management. Your SaaS Ops tool should support inventory management features such as lifecycle stages, contract status, and business owners. Additionally, look for solutions that help you drill down to collect usage and access data so you can analyze why apps are (or aren’t) being used. The data to drive those why questions are essential to an effective SaaS Ops strategy in the long run. 

Top 4 SaaS Ops challenges

Managing SaaS applications can be tricky. It’s easy for users to sign up for new software and introduce risk despite good intentions. It’s hard to detect when that happens and find the right balance of app rationalization, cost, security, compliance, and productivity.

Let’s break down some of the top four SaaS Ops challenges and how you can overcome them. 

1. Lack of visibility and control

IT often simply doesn’t know about shadow IT. In other cases, they can’t do anything to reign it in. While SSO helps IT regain some control, it isn’t a complete solution. In fact, one of our more interesting shadow IT stats is that less than 6% of monitored logins used SSO. 

So, what can you do to obtain SaaS visibility and control?

An effective SaaS discovery solution is a great first step. However, it doesn’t stop there. Teams need to implement reasonable (based on risk-appetite) security and compliance policies and have the tooling and authority to enforce them. That requires leadership buy-in and the right organizational mindset in addition to technology. 

2. Cost

Shadow IT and tool sprawl make it easy for software license costs to spiral out of control. When the average SaaS spend per employee is over $2,600, even small teams can rack up big SaaS bills. Controlling those costs are why many teams are focusing more energy on reducing SaaS spend and rationalizing SaaS apps. 

If you want to learn how to solve this problem, check out our deep dive into SaaS spend management

3. Poor SaaS lifecycle management

Shadow IT coupled with the limited reach of SSO in practice makes employee onboarding and offboarding a challenge. For offboarding, lack of visibility and control in IT leads to situations where ex-employees don’t get offboarded from business apps and new employees can’t easily be onboarded to the tools their predecessors used. This creates a double whammy of increased risk and reduced productivity. 

A SaaS management tool that continuously discovers SaaS apps, builds an inventory of managed (and unmanaged) SaaS apps, and supports easy generation of offboarding checklists, making it easier for IT to solve this SaaS Ops challenge.

4. Risk management

It’s easy to think of shadow IT as a security problem to be eliminated, but the reality is more nuanced. Sure, shadow IT creates compliance and security risks, but it is also often a result of well-intentioned employees trying to get work done. Your industry, data sensitivity, and compliance requirements will drive your risk appetite and from there you can make informed decisions about how to handle a specific instance of shadow IT. 

Tooling can help here, for example, Auvik SaaS Management can inform you about SaaS security issues, but this is primarily a mindset and strategic challenge to overcome. The business needs to view shadow IT and SaaS applications as risks to be managed rather than eliminated without considering context. 

Benefits of effective SaaS operations management

SaaS operations management is certainly one of the hotter trends in tech, but you shouldn’t do something just because it is a hot trend. The why from a business perspective matters.

With that in mind, here are four business benefits that make SaaS Ops worth the effort. 

  • Enhanced security and compliance: Pick your favorite security framework. Is it NIST 800-53? Maybe it’s  CIS Critical Security Controls (CIS Controls)? Or ISO/IEC 19770? For all of those frameworks (and many other standards) SaaS Ops practices like building a software inventory can help you achieve and maintain compliance. That same inventory might also help you meet cyber insurance requirements. Additionally, the right SaaS Ops tools can also help you detect and address insecure practices like password sharing. 
  • Improved governance: SaaS Ops gives IT the control and visibility required to implement effective SaaS governance. With detailed inventories, data on user behavior, and detailed reports, IT and business leaders can make informed decisions about SaaS adoption and policies. 
  • Increased productivity: One of the less obvious benefits of SaaS Ops is the positive impact it can have on end users. Sure, in some cases you’ll take away their favorite app. But, in others you’ll uncover opportunities to match employees to the business apps they need and meaningfully reduce time lost to onboarding and offboarding. Additionally, SaaS management platforms can take the manual effort out of maintaining a SaaS inventory and auditing usage, which can be a huge time saver for IT departments and MSPs. 
  • Cost optimization: SaaS Ops drives SaaS cost optimization in two key ways. First, automation of SaaS discovery and management tasks reduces the manual effort of managing applications. Next, once you have visibility into SaaS usage, the business can rationalize licenses, reduce duplication, and take advantage of bulk licensing when available.  

SaaS Ops best practices 

SaaS Ops is a combination of tooling, mindset, governance, and process.

Here are three SaaS Ops best practices to help you get the most out of your SaaS optimization efforts. 

  • Make SaaS Ops continuous. SaaS Ops practices aren’t point-in-time activities that you can do once a year and call “done”. SaaS risk and shadow IT change constantly and your SaaS management processes need to keep up. Make sure your tools, processes, and priorities all align to make SaaS Ops a regular part of how you do business. 
  • Get SaaS discovery right. SaaS discovery is the cornerstone of SaaS Ops, if you do everything else right, but your discovery processes are poor, your SaaS Ops initiatives will suffer. Leverage automated discovery tools and cross-check their results with what you observe in practice over time. If you notice gaps, for example, a known app that your tooling didn’t pick up, drill down to figure out why and take corrective action. 
  • Break down SaaS Ops communication silos. It’s no secret that SaaS Ops is in many ways following the cross-collaboration trial that DevOps blazed over the last 15 years. So, it should be no surprise that breaking down communications silos is an essential aspect of effective SaaS Ops. While IT is typically accountable for SaaS management, it’s essential that SaaS Ops teams are cross functional and work with end users directly. One of the biggest mistakes a SaaS Ops team can make is becoming too siloed and not engaging with end users to ensure business problems are being solved effectively. 

SaaS Ops emerging trends

SaaS Ops is reaching a tipping point where it has moved beyond early adopters and is crossing the chasm to obtain widespread adoption. And MSPs. And, this trend is leading to some interesting changes.

For example, while IT is often considered a cost center, an increased focus on SaaS Ops provides a high-visibility opportunity for IT to drive business value and improve productivity. 

Similarly, while SaaS Ops may be a differentiator for MSPs today, it’s likely to become table stakes tomorrow. Expect to see continued growth of MSPs that integrate SaaS management into their solution stack. The MSPs that get the most out of this trend will be the ones that understand how to unlock and demonstrate the business value of SaaS management for their clients. 

💡Pro tip for MSPs: Learn exactly how to roll out a SaaS management solution and integrate it with your offerings to create recurring revenue and win/win outcomes with clients.

How Auvik SaaS Management (ASM) helps SaaS Ops teams succeed

SaaS Ops is doing for SaaS management what DevOps did for software development and you can expect adoption to continue to rise. The organizations that get SaaS management right can significantly reduce cybersecurity risk and increase productivity. 

Coupled with the right mindset, the right tooling can help you get the most out of your SaaS Ops initiative. With robust SaaS discovery, management, and reporting capabilities Auvik SaaS Management is purpose-built to help IT and MSPs supercharge their SaaS management efforts.

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