This piece was written by Doug Hazelman, senior-vice president and chief evangelist at CoreView.

Global businesses adopted SaaS platforms and cloud apps en masse starting last year to accommodate remote work better. This trend hasn’t slowed down as businesses transition to hybrid work models in the post-pandemic world. CIOs are so focused on making SaaS and cloud tools available to their employees that they haven’t stopped to think about whether people want them. The condensed timeline for tech rollouts is starting to take a toll on workforces as a Cornell University report shows 43% of workers reported spending too much time switching between different tools, up to an hour a day in most cases. This stat is alarming but is also a work in progress. Now, CIOs and their IT teams can focus on proper management of their cloud infrastructure to ensure they are streamlining admin operations, mitigating risk, and optimizing ROI on their tech investments.

Cloud app management challenges should be familiar

App management in the SaaS world isn’t necessarily more difficult than managing on-premise; however, what has changed is the increase in usage across all business lines. Many SaaS applications feature easy sign-ups and one-click setups, making it easy for the IT department to lose visibility and control over their cloud environment. For instance, Microsoft 365 was one of the largest benefactors of the shift to remote work. IT teams typically own and manage the platform, but Microsoft continually adds in new applications. What started as an online version of MS Office and Outlook now incorporates Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive, and several other applications, all with their own administrative interfaces.

Lack of visibility is where shadow IT creeps into many corporate cloud environments. Each new application connected to the corporate network – be it cloud, hybrid, or on-premises – represents a potential security vulnerability. Cloud apps can make it easy for cybercriminals to exfiltrate sensitive information or facilitate employees’ risky online behaviors, such as sharing files to an external Box account.

However, shadow IT is a finance issue as much as it is a security one. CIOs and finance leaders must be mindful that every app connected to the corporate network has a financial impact on the organization’s bottom line. For instance, usage of Microsoft Teams skyrocketed in 2020. Still, many IT leaders identified small pockets of resistance within their workforce because people were more comfortable with alternatives like Slack or Zoom. It’s ok for businesses to enable their employees to work with their preferred tools, provided CIOs know what apps are accessing corporate data and their costs.

Large businesses see departments signing up for applications with no thought to the rest of the company, and then that application becomes standard for the department. IT needs to have suitable discovery mechanisms to understand what apps are used (and by whom), especially when an application is first downloaded. Having an inventory of all applications helps IT know what apps are in use and what employee training must be rolled out to help employees familiarize themselves with their new tools.

Combat shadow IT with employee buy-in

The root cause of the majority of shadow IT is simple: employees aren’t happy with the company’s digital workplace tools. People don’t like change, and the last few years have been a seemingly unending transformation for workers. If people have been using an app for a while and are now forced to use a completely different app without an apparent reason, they’ll fight it. Or, at the very least, be slow to adopt the app. Enterprises need to understand this concept and carefully roll out cloud and SaaS apps, mainly if they’re replacing an app currently in use.

A good SaaS management strategy establishes a central digital workplace committee of multi-disciplinary business leaders who agree on what business applications are required to support their employees. This group provides a venue for department heads to flag their IT needs while allowing CIOs to decide whether the investment is necessary or if the requested functionality already exists in their tech stack and a targeted training will suffice.

The committee’s singular focus should be to deliver applications that are easy to use and help people with their day-to-day jobs. If an application requires unnecessary steps or processes, employees will push back. The only way to gain wholesale buy-in for new tools and apps is to make sure people need them. New business-critical applications must be better than the current options and easier to use.

IT must also do an excellent job of “marketing” new applications to earn broad employee application adoption. The digital workplace committee can communicate the benefits of the new applications related to the specific needs of their department. Pilot programs for the new application must also identify potential bugs or complications the app presents to a particular group or department. Done correctly, the digital workplace committee has a staunch group of supporters from the outset that can help troubleshoot issues and answer their peers’ questions.

Now that businesses’ digital transformation sprint is over, it’s important that they lay the groundwork towards long-term SaaS and cloud application management. Enterprises must gain visibility into their cloud infrastructure to properly manage their cloud environment. Without it, it’s simply too easy for departments or individuals to derail sound SaaS management strategies. Many businesses are diligently working through the tech debt accumulated during their rapid shift to the cloud but, if managed correctly, that will be a short-term hurdle on the path towards enhanced business agility, reduced admin, and significant ROI.

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