By: Matt Tharp

A recent study from Cisco showed that the average organization has 15 to 22 times more cloud applications running than have been authorized by the IT department. The question is, if everyone’s installing their own SaaS apps, who’s responsible for the role of IT at an organization? This question challenges every business, from startups to enterprises, and can serve as a major point of frustration for those assigned the role of IT management. Let’s take a look at why the problem of IT ownership exists, and how smart organizations should be handling it today.

The Changing Role of IT

Two decades ago, the role of IT was very centralized in an organization. Every software or hardware decision was made by IT leadership, and their decisions became law throughout the entire organization. This structure made it easier for IT teams to establish corporate systems and retain control over how work was done for security purposes. Like it or not, when things went south, there was only one person to call: the IT guy or gal. Hence, the legacy role of IT as a “fixer” or corporate helpdesk came into play.

The rise of the cloud put IT teams into a challenging position, as parts of a once-centralized application ecosystem became outsourced to third parties. Organizations marched forward with their adoption of the cloud, citing business benefits like speed and the ability to collaborate. More business users than ever started adopting technology, and bringing their own devices to work (BYOD).

The role of IT was focused on trying to retain control over systems that were increasingly becoming chaotic and distributed. Often, IT was viewed as a bottleneck, preventing people from using the technology they wanted for security or policy reasons (even though, many times, IT didn’t want to be that blocker).

In the last five years, the number of SaaS apps in use has exploded: the average company pays for 20 times more SaaS subscriptions today than five years ago, and uses 30+ free SaaS products. It’s easier than ever to buy and use an app for a specific business purpose, which distributes the role of IT to business users (whether they know it or not). Combine the ease of SaaS with BYOD, and it’s no surprise that, at many smaller organizations, employees simply take IT into their own hands, with no central management at all.

If an issue arises with a SaaS app, it’s often the business user who’s in charge of troubleshooting it and making it work for the organization. However, once companies reach a critical mass of people, it becomes difficult to get oversight into all of the SaaS apps at work in an organization, which can lead to its own kind of chaos when it comes to managing overall spending, security, and data privacy.

Hello, Business Operations!

Once an organization gets to about 30-50 people, it becomes necessary to assign the role of IT to someone on the team, whether it’s their full-time job or not. We’ve seen anyone from CEOs, to engineers, to HR people, to office managers handling this task at high-growth startups. These people, who often have no formal IT training, are managing tasks like looking into team usage across the SaaS portfolio, and managing renewals and subscriptions. Unfortunately, they may be ignoring some of the big picture issues associated with SaaS management, such as security.

After awhile, it may become necessary to hire or appoint a business operations manager. This person may look like a blend between a technical hire, a project manager, an HR hire, and a high-performing office manager. Going beyond the traditional role of IT gatekeeper or helpdesk, the business operations function can serve as a cross-functional role across departments, helping teams understand their needs from both a strategic and technological perspective.

Although the role of business operations varies dramatically depending on the organization, his or her responsibilities may include:

  • Cross-functional collaboration: Help teams prioritize goals and find out if there are any opportunities for collaboration across departments.
  • Cost-reduction: Find opportunities to reduce cost, with a focus on software spend optimization and vendor management.
  • People operations: Manage the hiring process with internal teams, and ensure that employees are properly onboarded (when hired) and offboarded (when they leave or change roles) onto the right technology.
  • Project management and reporting: Run and manage projects, and determine the efficiency or effectiveness of teams based on real data.
  • Security and compliance. Serve as a team lead, pulling in engineering or technical staff to ensure that security and compliance protocols are established and followed.

While business operations hires aren’t supplanting IT altogether, they can serve as a good transitional role for organizations that aren’t necessarily ready to hire full-time IT staff.

Getting a Handle on SaaS Management

Regardless of whether an organization decides to hire a business operations manager or a more traditional IT role after a certain stage of growth—or takes another approach altogether—it’s important for whoever is in charge of technology decisions to get a handle on the SaaS applications in use across an organization. It’s vital that they undertake this without preventing employees from doing their jobs. An unruly SaaS stack can lead to wasted money (if applications are unused or overlapping), not to mention serious security, data privacy, and compliance issues as your organization grows and scales.

If you haven’t already, it’s well worth taking the time to answer these questions for your organization:

  • Who owns IT functions (renewals, licenses, budget, etc.) for each department and each SaaS tool at your organization?
  • Does the organization have full visibility into what tools are being used, how, and why?
  • Does the organization know how much is being spent on tools?
  • Are you certain there is not tool overlap that could be remediated?
  • How are security concerns being managed across SaaS apps?

To dig a little deeper, Blissfully recently wrote a guide to SaaS management, which describes the issue in more detail, and provides tips on how to manage the SaaS applications at work in your organization (regardless of whether a full-time hire is appointed to the task).

For more information, check out The Blissfully Guide to SaaS Management.