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SaaS Management: Gaining Control without Losing Freedom

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”  – Bob Dylan

“Global SaaS spending will double by 2020 to $100 billion.” – Hyoun Park, Amalgam Insights

When I meet with customers and prospects to talk about giving IT the tools it needs to effectively manage technology costs, enhance company productivity, and deliver a high-quality end-user experience, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to move to SaaS and the conundrum it presents.

Liberation, but at a Cost

The notion of SaaS as a great liberating force in the enterprise is well founded – who wouldn’t want the ease and accessibility of cloud-based apps vs. a lengthy on-premise software implementation with higher support costs and less rapid innovation? – and companies are making their preference known with their subscriptions and their dollars, doubling their SaaS spending by 2020, as noted by Amalgam Insights in a recent webinar.

But SaaS adoption at scale brings its own challenges, some of which cut to the very core of IT’s role and mission in the enterprise. Consider for example:

  1. Today, 80 percent of users are bringing at least one application to work unbeknownst to IT, issuing in an era of  “shadow IT.”
  2. With over 6,000 SaaS applications to choose from – whether adopted surreptitiously or with IT approval – the task of evaluating SaaS applications, measuring their effectiveness, and managing them has grown increasingly more complex. 
  3. “By 2020, for 40% of software titles, the fundamental priority of software asset management (SAM) will shift from managing compliance with software publisher terms and conditions to eliminating unnecessary expenditure in ‘as a service’ contracts.” (Gartner).

Having It Both Ways

As these and other challenges highlight, there is a fundamental tension in the “as a service” revolution between control – what IT wants and needs to support the enterprise – and freedom – what end-users crave and demand. But what if the enterprise could have it both ways? What if the Wild West of SaaS could be managed cost effectively in the service of productivity and profitability, while also enabling a compelling end-user experience marked by freedom and satisfaction?

At Sakon, we’ve found the answer in recent history, namely in telecom expense management (TEM) and managed mobility services (MMS).

I know what you’re thinking:  What could a legacy problem like TEM possibly have in common with SaaS management?

The answer is a monthly bill.

It just so happens that the ability to manage the costs of a global communications network in all its complexity and scale – think of all that inventory: the circuits, the systems, the devices; then the carriers, contracts, and invoices; and, finally, all the individual users, departments, and geographies – is a surprisingly fitting analog for SaaS cost management.

The key to controlling both is building and maintaining an exhaustive, real-time inventory of the estate, managing invoices, allocating costs correctly, tracking usage, identifying and resolving disputes, and doing it again each month.

I also bring up TEM in the current context of SaaS, because TEM itself is morphing from telecom-centric cost control to technology expense management, and that technology under management includes SaaS. In fact, Gartner recently called out this change in its influential Gartner Market Guide for TEM Services 2018, noting “TEM vendors continue to evolve their offerings to include the wider spectrum of communications-related IT and cloud-based asset/licensing capabilities.”

Clearly, TEM is not just for telecom anymore.

Mobility Means Freedom

So, if TEM provides a window into managing the “control,” or cost, aspect of SaaS management, what historical antecedent can we find for SaaS end-user enablement, or “freedom”? The answer lies in mobility.

SaaS is like mobile in many ways. SaaS is typically assigned to a user; the user often wants the freedom to choose their own technology; and, in many cases, he or she would like to bring that technology to work as well.

And, honestly, isn’t SaaS by its very nature mobile? That’s the great freedom of SaaS – users don’t need to be deskbound or even laptop-bound: they can now access applications anywhere, anytime from their own devices to be productive.

As a consequence, companies need to be thinking about managing SaaS the same way they manage mobility, finding the right tools to enable BYOA (bring your own app) and BYOD (bring your own device). And they must do so in a way that keeps up with the freedom of choice presented by the rapidly changing portfolio of SaaS apps and relatively fast-changing cycle of devices users want – all while helping IT closely monitor these untethered users.

Sound challenging enough?

That’s where the analog of MMS is so useful. Managing many of the same kinds of complexity as TEM, such as multiple carriers, contracts, devices and invoices, MMS solutions also speak directly to the desire of end users to procure the mobile device they want, bring that device to work (the kindling of today’s impending BYOD and BYOA conflagrations), and work anywhere, anytime they want. In this regard, IT’s efforts to support the needs of the mobile workforce through MMS set a meaningful precedent for the end-user focus of SaaS and the accelerated consumerization of IT it manifests.

The double precedent of how TEM has advanced IT’s ability to manage complex, dynamic inventories and subscriptions on a monthly basis and how MMS has further expanded those capabilities to heighten the end-user experience of technology informs the SaaS management discussion in another useful way. It points to the problem of proliferation and redundancy: Do we really need different platforms to manage these discrete needs?

Can’t we have just one?  

That’s what the enterprise wants. One platform with one workflow to manage SaaS, mobility, and TEM. And, while they’re at it, BYOD, network transformation, and “everything as a service.”

The shift to procuring, provisioning, and managing the network, software, and devices – everything the enterprise needs to be productive and profitable – as a monthly service is on. The single platform that can do that at Fortune 500 scale, providing control for IT and freedom for end-users, has never been closer.