Yes, Your Company Buys Too Much Software

Years of overindulgence in easy-to-acquire SaaS applications may have finally caught up with the enterprise. The SaaS sprawl of today’s modern enterprise application landscape looks more like an eclectic yard sale in dire need of cathartic expunging versus an intentionally-designed ecosystem. The brittle patchwork of application integration– a modern equivalent to duct tape and bailing wire– precariously stitches together the hodgepodge of hundreds of applications which intermingle like space junk orbiting around the Earth. 

With literally hundreds of software solutions in circulation, the costs and risks of software management only continue to climb. For CIOs, this begs the question: how much software is simply too much?

I previously wrote of the fallen promises of big-name platforms. In summary, the promise of one vendor providing all the core functionality needed to meet a major business capability area often falls short.The culprits of platform failures include lacking innovation and poorly-integrated components from hasty acquisitions. Nevertheless it seems that certain companies, particularly of the high-tech variety, have swung the pendulum in the opposite direction of platforms and have acquired hundreds of “best of breed” solutions to the point of extremes. We’ve officially reached a point where the constant, exhausting, and expensive churn of ripping and replacing point solutions must come to an end. 

The pain of point solutions

Beyond increasing costs and security risks, the employee experience ultimately erodes as more applications are introduced into the environment. One team prefers to use Google Drive, while the other uses Box. One team uses Asana, and the other Smartsheet. The problem with this approach is that teams do not live in a vacuum. When teams collaborate across departmental lines, they are required to use multiple, overlapping tools.

Automation and data exchange is also a challenge. Getting two (often competing) products to share data requires building custom API-based integrations which requires support from developer or integration teams. And for every net-new application we introduce into the enterprise, we must solicit cycles from information security, privacy, and procurement teams. All of this equates to longer time to productivity. 

For executives who yearn to move faster, tactical software procurement is becoming a distraction. It’s the burning of cycles on these contextual activities which robs precious cycles from innovation and delivery. 

Where CIOs can lead

It’s unrealistic to expect one tool or vendor to comprehensively cover a major business capability area on its own. However, tools must be selected based on demonstrable differentiation versus managerial preference. Furthermore, when new tools are deployed, IT leaders should ask if existing tools can be replaced. Like a mutual fund, the enterprise application portfolio must be curated; otherwise, the “pile-on effect” of redundant applications will only make the landscape convoluted and costly. 

Application sprawl may be here to stay. Yet applications need something to anchor to; a stable body of gravity or “planet” that is long-lived. Without such planets, we have very little stability and extremely high maintenance. 

The ultimate ambition for IT leaders is for the application landscape to be designed; not organic. This means having an architecture, an application successor roadmap, and a guide for which preferred applications to select for specific business tasks. It means having stable, long-lived systems or planets for shorter-lived satellites solutions to bolt on to. And finally, a designed landscape requires education. From executives to individual contributors, the entire company should be aware of the application landscape strategy.