March 16, 2023
3
MIN READ

What is SaaS Operations?

SaaS Insights
Operations

SaaS Operations (SaaSOps) is a new field that's quickly becoming essential for companies of all sizes.

by
Nikesh Ashar

It's no news that high-performing teams rely on a solid SaaS stack. The right tools make it possible to conduct your everyday operations in an effective and easily trackable way.  However, the need to manage dozens of software subscriptions has brought a set of new challenges for IT departments. 

To succeed as a modern-day IT professional at a startup or scaleup, you need to know good SaaSOps management practices. 

In this guide, we’ll share:

  • What is SaaSOps
  • Key SaaS Operations Management processes
  • How your SaaS management practices can affect your entire company
  • The most common SaaSOps challenges that IT teams face
  • 4 key best practices to implement a successful SaaSOps strategy

Ready? Let’s dive in.

What Is SaaSOps? A Quick Definition**

With Software as a Service (SaaS) taking over everyone's workflows, you may have heard the term SaaSOps or SaaS Operations pop up recently.

So what is SaaSOps? Let's start with a quick definition:

SaaS Operations (SaaSOps) refers to the operational processes related to the discovery, purchasing, management, and cancelation of software in a business. It’s a set of practices that allows IT leaders to:

  • Identify the most suitable SaaS applications for each department within a company
  • Plan and adhere to an IT budget
  • Manage teams’ access to SaaS applications
  • Manage employees’ IT onboarding and offboarding processes
  • Create methods to automate time-consuming SaaS management tasks
  • Protect passwords and other company-sensitive information
  • Provide SaaS tools training to teams

It's a relatively new field, but as companies onboard more software tools than ever, the management of SaaS stacks (aka SaaS Operations) is becoming increasingly important. Spotify opting to hire its very own SaaSOps Engineer is a case in point.

Startups and scaleups are using more SaaS tools than ever. According to our 2023 SaaS industry predictions, companies are expected to spend $195 billion on SaaS in 2023, a 17% increase compared to 2022. 

SaaS adoption is indeed on the rise. And IT leaders are facing new challenges as a result. They are suffering from a classic adapt-or-die scenario, just like retailers and marketers with eCommerce and digital marketing. 

Consequently, we’re now seeing the rise of new IT positions such as:

  • SaaSOps Infrastructure Engineers 
  • SaaSOps Leaders 
  • SaaSOps Supervisors

In fact, according to a survey by BetterCloud, more than 650 IT professionals have already incorporated the term into their job title or are planning to do so.

Those who manage SaaSOps are responsible for the end-to-end journey of software inside an organization – all the way from budgeting and approval, to onboarding and offboarding processes, security risk and compliance management, employee experience, and the automation of software-related administration.

It's a lot. But to put it simply, SaaSOps includes all the processes and systems companies need to empower teams to be successful users of SaaS. In reality, most companies don’t have a dedicated person to manage the lifecycle of SaaS within their organization – which means there are many different approaches out there, some better than others.

Ultimately, companies with a thriving SaaS Operations function have more efficient processes, happier employees, and better security. What's more, they have significantly lower software costs and their teams spend less time on repetitive software-related administration.

Why is SaaS Operations important?**

Gartner predicts SaaS spending to grow by almost 20% to $208 billion in 2023.

Not only are companies using more SaaS, but many license-based software products are migrating to SaaS. Software-as-a-Service is fast becoming the main way a company delivers its business. But at the same time, it presents new challenges.

Traditional Software Asset Management processes and systems are no longer relevant as the challenges and risks faced by businesses using SaaS are different from those using “traditional” software.

SaaS tools facilitate (and encourage) bottom-up purchasing decisions – gone are the days when the IT team authorized and knew exactly which tools are being used company-wide. Now, simply understanding what software exists in an organization is a difficult task, never mind securing customer data and executing effective onboarding and offboarding processes.

In the words of Marc Andreessen: “Software is eating the world.”

That means companies need to tackle the challenge of SaaS Ops head-on.

Whether you work for a large company that can easily hire a dedicated SaaSOps professional, or if you’re part of a startup that just needs to get its software management under control, here are some key SaaSOps processes you should know about.

Key SaaS Operations Management processes**

1. Support users in requesting software

Since most SaaS ops apps can now be downloaded at the click of a button, SaaS Ops processes should focus on helping users and teams onboard the software they need to increase employee productivity. That’s especially true in today’s fast-paced environment.

Setting up SaaS ops management software where users can request a new tool or pay for it with a virtual card enables companies to streamline software-related processes and minimize the burden software-related requests create on Finance and IT teams.

2. Establish a system of record

Crucial to the management of SaaS is actually knowing how many SaaS tools your company uses.

This is a challenge when SaaS is often bought by employees directly, without the involvement of IT or procurement. SaaS Management platforms offer an easy solution that enables those responsible for SaaS Ops to create a single source of truth for any information related to software.

This does away with time-consuming spreadsheets and frees up time for more strategic work to be done. 

3. Monitor, manage and optimize the SaaS budget to identify potential savings

Once you have a system of record for your company’s SaaS, you can use that data to identify forgotten, unused, and duplicate SaaS subscriptions and opportunities to consolidate products.

Finance teams can also use the data to understand and forecast the real software spend of your company, as well as the fully-loaded cost of a team member or the entire team. This leads to more accurate budgets and less unnecessary waste on software expenses.

This is critical for businesses, as up to 30% of software spend is wasted on forgotten, unused, and redundant applications.

4. Automate SaaS administration

With the rise of SaaS ops, companies use more software tools ever before, and the number of subscriptions just keeps growing – many companies add at least 5 new SaaS applications every quarter. That means managing 20 new subscriptions every year.

Every new SaaS product in a company adds extra administration every month. Chasing colleagues for invoices, reconciling those invoices to payments or expense reports, and completing the bookkeeping can take up many extra hours a week.

The extra hours associated with these manual tasks can make a 'cheap' SaaS operation management platform products relatively expensive.

SaaS Operations management entails finding ways to automate these mundane and slow manual tasks. That way, finance teams can get back to doing things that add value to the company, rather than spending endless time on SaaS bookkeeping.

5. Own SaaS Enablement

Having a large number of SaaS tools doesn't just make the finance team's life difficult – SaaS touches everyone in the company.

HR, for example, is massively affected by SaaS.

A large part of tasks related to onboarding new hires comes down to access to software tools. A job that's made especially difficult if HR doesn't know what SaaS is in the company or what software new joiners use.

Similarly, offboarding employees is no easy task when you don't know what SaaS the departing team member had access to.

Unlike onboarding, the risk related to offboarding isn't just lost time – it's risking a data breach and fines. Data security is probably the biggest risk arising from the Bring Your Own Software (BYOS) revolution and getting this right is not optional for most companies.

With this in mind, SaaSOps teams should strive to use systems and develop processes that help protect the company and customer data.

6. Establish SaaS Compliance Policies

Businesses that need to comply with SOC2, ISO27001, or EBA Outsourcing Guidelines need specific policies in place to manage vendor due diligence. This includes SaaS, approvals linked to business cases and risk assessments, ongoing monitoring of SaaS operations management, and regular reporting to stay compliant.

A SaaSOps process should take compliance into account. So, if they don't already exist, it's time to take the lead on introducing policies and systems to support them.

But this is a tricky task when many organizations report not knowing how many SaaS tools are being used in their organizations.

Each undocumented or unapproved SaaS tool can lead to a potential security breach, which is why organizations need a way to track and discover the software tools used in their operations.

How Your SaaS Management Practices Can Affect Your Entire Company**

Before discussing challenges and strategies, it’s worth mentioning that SaaSOps doesn’t only affect IT specialists.

SaaSOps affect your entire team. And the reason is quite simple: since employees use SaaS subscriptions daily, anomalies can have a significant effect on their workflow.

All in all, the departments that are most impacted by SaaSOps include:

  • Compliance 
  • Human resources
  • Finance

Let’s take a closer look.

Compliance 

One of the teams most affected by SaaSOps is compliance. 

Typically, this is due to 2 regulations: 

  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which protects individuals' rights regarding the processing of their data and the free movement of that data.
  • New EBA Outsourcing Guidelines that require fintech startups to develop processes and controls to regulate the implementation and monitoring of SaaS.

Some of your customers’ data will likely be stored or processed through SaaS apps. Therefore, your compliance team needs to ensure that the tools you use:

  • Meet regulatory requirements
  • Store and manage data safely and responsibly

If your SaaS stack includes tools that haven’t been vetted by your compliance team, you may be facing massive legal risks. 

Human Resources

SaaS adoption also affects human resources. Especially throughout employee onboarding and offboarding.

When a new employee joins your company, it’ll be essential for them to have access to the SaaS stack they need, as quickly as possible. And when an employee is leaving the company, they should have their access to SaaS tools quickly revoked, to protect sensitive data. 

IT and HR leaders need to be aligned throughout these processes. And that alignment begins with good SaaSOps practices. 

Without adequate SaaSOps practices:

  • HR won’t have clarity regarding the tools a new team member will need for their role
  • Your employees' onboarding could be clumsy, slow, and inefficient
  • Your employee offboarding may leave you vulnerable to data breaches

Finance

SaaS is usually scaleups’ second-largest expense. So poor SaaS management can significantly affect your finance team. 

It can be very frustrating for accountants to keep track of your SaaS budget and to understand where it’s being spent. Especially, if team members get subscriptions too frequently and without a supervisor's approval. 

Without proper SaaS management processes, finance specialists can quickly lose clarity of how much the company is spending on software. 

Common SaaSOps Challenges for IT Teams**

Now you know how SaaSOps challenges can affect your entire company. But it all begins with IT. If IT is struggling to keep track of your team’s software stack, so will HR, compliance, and finance. 

So, let’s dive deeper into some of the most common SaaSOps challenges that IT teams face.

The most common SaaSOps challenges include:

  • Shadow IT
  • Hidden costs and overspending
  • Security & compliance issues
  • Inefficient onboarding and offboarding processes

Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to those SaaS applications that are used by team members without IT’s support and supervision.

According to data collected by Cledara, in 2020 83% of companies discovered that their team was using unauthorized software. 

Shadow IT is often the result of employees looking for the best tools to do their job. But, if you don’t create processes to prevent it, you could face:

  • Redundant software costs
  • Unstandardized workflows
  • Data breaches

Hidden Costs & Overspending

Hidden costs are a recurrent SaaSOps challenge. While, as we explored in the previous section, hidden costs mostly affect the finance team, IT should have the tools to prevent it. 

If your IT team doesn’t don’t know exactly how many and which SaaS tools your company uses, it’s possible that your financial department won’t have that data either. And this could lead to:

  • Overspending
  • Untracked costs
  • Inaccurate expense forecasting 

Security & Compliance Issues 

Acquiring certain SaaS subscriptions without proper security measures can compromise your customers and your company’s information. 

Your IT team needs a standardized software approval workflow. And your compliance department should definitely be involved. 

Inefficient Onboarding and Offboarding Processes

As we mentioned earlier, inefficient SaaS operations can lead to inadequate employee onboarding and offboarding processes.

Overall, if you don’t count on a comprehensive SaaSOps strategy, you may have to:

  • Figure out which tools your new employees should have access to, delaying the onboarding process
  • Try to recall which tools a former employee used, and quickly revoke their access, risking a data breach in the meantime

SaaS Operations Best Practices for IT Leaders**

We’ve already covered why SaaSOps can affect your entire company. We’ve also explored the most common SaaSOps challenges that fast-growing scaleups face. So, in this section, we’ll share 4 SaaSOps best practices for IT leaders.

We recommend:

  • Centralizing your SaaS stack 
  • Building a software testing process
  • Establishing keep SaaSOps policies
  • Approaching SaaSOps as an ongoing process

Let’s dive into each one, shall we?

Centralize Your SaaS Stack Management

One of the main reasons why IT teams struggle with SaaSOps is that they don’t have the stack to make it easy or scalable. You may try to keep track of your SaaS stack on a spreadsheet, which includes little contextual information and quickly becomes outdated. And maybe your passwords are stored in a password management tool that doesn’t specify who should have access to which tool.

As a SaaSOps leader, a SaaS management platform could be your best ally.

A good SaaS management platform allows you to:

  • See all your subscriptions in one place
  • Manage employee access
  • Visualize your software spending
  • Assist in onboarding and offboarding processes
  • Set up and monitor software approval workflows
  • Improve your credential and seat management

Always Test Potential Software

Empower team members to look for the best tools for their job and offer them a quick approval workflow. If you combine this with a robust SaaS subscription tracking system, you can:

  • Make shadow IT a thing of the past
  • Guarantee that your team is happy with their software stack
  • Prevent tool redundancy

Additionally, we recommend taking advantage of software trials, free plans, and demos. Don’t buy a subscription for each tool your team wants to evaluate. 

Getting a monthly subscription to try a tool for 30 days may seem reasonable. But if your team forgets to cancel their subscription, you may soon face a recurring charge for software that no one’s using.

Finally, don’t forget to involve your compliance team in the tool-testing process. 

Establish Clear Policies

For your SaaSOps efforts to be effective, you'll need your whole team to be on board. And that’s impossible without good communication and clear policies.

Involve your team from the earliest stages of the process. You’ll need their help to:

  • Assess your company’s SaaSOps needs
  • Begin shaping your SaaSOps policies
  • Compile a list of your software subscriptions

Your team’s involvement will also be key to the long-term success of your SaaS management efforts. So remain helpful and informative.

We recommend you:

  • Set a meeting to discuss your SaaSOps goals and how they will benefit the entire team
  • Create internal resources to educate team members on the importance of SaaS management
  • Create an entry on the team wiki that clearly outlines your SaaS management rules
  • Use accessible and non-technical terms to explain SaaSOps, that way no one is left out of the conversation

Approach SaaSOps as an Ongoing Effort

SaaSOps isn't a project with an end date. It involves maintaining a system for subscription tracking and credential management. But it's also about building software approval processes and optimizing them as your company grows.  And don't forget that your SaaSOps efforts won't get far if your team doesn't know about them. So you should also evangelize your colleagues about the importance of proper SaaS management. And that isn't a one-time effort either.

If you don't commit to proper SaaSOps long-term, a few minor changes could jeopardize your progress.

Additionally, staying on top of your SaaS stack will help you to:

  • Detect redundant or unused applications
  • Help finance to identify saving opportunities
  • Ensure that permissions and security are optimal

The role of SaaS Management Platforms**

Organizations that want to prioritize SaaSOps should seek a SaaS Management Platform that considers the entire SaaS lifecycle. Not only can a SaaS management platform facilitate most of the processes described above, it can also enable the automation of a lot of processes – potentially substituting the need for a dedicated SaaSOps professional in smaller organizations, or supporting their work in larger companies.

Yet, most platforms only help to keep an overview of your software stack, but don’t go as far as offering the ability to discover, buy, manage, and cancel software subscriptions all at once.

Meet Cledara, Your Ally for Better SaaSOps**

You can try to control your SaaS stack with a few spreadsheets. But the right tool will make your SaaS management frictionless and precise. And it will keep it that way as your team and stack grow.

That’s where Cledara comes in as the all-in-one software management platform with an offering of virtual credit and debit cards. This makes it easy to pay for and track all of your software subscriptions in one centralized dashboard. What’s more, the added compliance and security features help ensure your software stack is secure and meets local regulatory requirements.

Cledara is a SaaS management platform that allows you to:

  • Visualize all your software subscriptions in a single place
  • Prevent shadow IT 
  • Discover hidden software costs
  • Unsubscribe from unused tools in one click
  • Take full control of your software spending through virtual cards
  • Manage credentials in a seamless and easy way
  • Guarantee software compliance
  • And much more

Better SaaSOps are a click away. Book a Cledara demo today.

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Nikesh Ashar

I currently look after Quality Assurance and IT at Cledara. Having built a robust QA process and now a team, we work with Product and Engineering to make sure that our software is robust and well tested.

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