The Hidden Costs Of Unmanaged IT: best practices to eliminate sprawl, gaps and waste

The Hidden Costs Of Unmanaged IT: best practices to eliminate sprawl, gaps and waste

No matter an organisations size, it can be easy to lose track of IT resources - but what steps can be taken to combat this issue?

Published on 11th April 2024

Do you know the exact number of IT applications your organization uses? What IT assets do you have in place for collaboration and project management? What mix of devices do employees rely on, and on which operating systems do they run? Do you know who has access to those resources?

Pinpointing an answer may be tricky. Digital transformation may have ushered in new possibilities for computing, but it also introduced a level of tool sprawl that burdens IT teams everywhere.

Enabling innovation and productivity while maintaining visibility into and control over an expanding array of digital tools isn’t simple. There’s a reason nearly half of IT teams report feeling overwhelmed. Worse, tool sprawl has an even greater impact on organizations by creating security gaps and wasting money.

A small amount of IT sprawl leads to big business problems.

IT sprawl occurs when an organization loses track of its IT resources. The result is redundant software tools, underutilized licenses, unapproved applications used by employees and outdated or unsupported systems lingering in the IT ecosystem. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) sprawl, a subset of IT sprawl, specifically refers to the unchecked spread of SaaS applications. It often starts innocently, with teams adopting new cloud-based solutions to address immediate needs, then escalating to overlapping functionalities, wasted resources and increased vulnerabilities.

The swift shift to remote work left many organizations scrambling to band-aid IT to simply keep things running, but it left those companies with a shadow IT hangover. While productivity and IT flexibility are good, organizations—specifically small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—risk weakening their security posture and compliance while wasting budget without central visibility into all of the resources employees are using.

The problem is growing. Gartner estimates that 41% of employees acquired, modified or created technology outside of IT’s visibility in 2022. By 2027, 75% of employees are expected to have done so. It’s worse for SMEs; Capterra reports that 57% of them estimate they have high-impact shadow IT within their walls today.

IT sprawl impedes operational efficiency. Teams waste valuable time navigating between multiple applications, some of which may have overlapping functionalities. Such redundancy hampers productivity and inflates costs as organizations find themselves paying for underutilized or unnecessary software subscriptions.

From a security perspective, too many applications and tools broaden an organization’s attack surface. Bad actors, now armed with AI, can target every unmonitored application or device. Without full visibility and control, IT teams can’t enforce consistent security policies or detect breaches, risking data leaks and compliance violations.

Steps For Improvement

No matter the size of your organization, it’s time to take an active role in combating IT sprawl. Managing SaaS applications involves a comprehensive approach to securely and effectively managing different user roles, levels of permissions, handling of departed employees and upcoming renewals. Here are a few best practices to get started:

1. Conduct a comprehensive asset inventory.

Lean on specialized IT inventory management tools to automatically track and catalogue all software and hardware assets. This should include details like usage metrics, license terms and renewal dates, ensuring nothing goes unnoticed or unmanaged. You need a deep understanding of what your employees are using. A manual system is good but often results in some things going unnoticed. A proper automated process leaves no stone unturned and ensures an inventory audit is secure, ethical and complete.

2. Develop a plan for identity and asset management implementation.

Once you have a good sense of what’s in your IT environment, deploy advanced identity and access management (IAM) solutions that offer granular control over user access, incorporating features like single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA) and conditional access policies. Look for those that integrate seamlessly with your existing systems to automate the provisioning and de-provisioning process, reducing the risk of orphaned accounts and unauthorized access.

3. Be strategic about application rationalization.

Conduct a thorough application rationalization process, systematically evaluating each software tool against business needs, usage data and security compliance. Decide whether to keep, replace, retire or consolidate each application, focusing on eliminating redundancies and optimizing your software portfolio.

4. Identify processes for automation.

Work toward removing manual IT tasks that can be automated with modern software tools—and make sure you’re clear about those that can’t be fully automated. Processes like software deployment, patch management and compliance auditing are great candidates for automation, reducing your IT workload, minimizing human error and speeding up response times to security incidents.

5. Create an accountability framework.

Establish (and educate staff about) clear policies and procedures for how employees should acquire and use new tools and applications, and create a formal review process for any new software adoption. Determine ownership of each application and IT asset to specific individuals or departments, and schedule regular review meetings to assess the IT landscape and adjust strategies as needed.

6. Be prepared.

Review your backup and disaster recovery (DR) plan to ensure you have clear procedures for data backup, system restoration and business continuity. Make sure any incident response plan outlines steps to be taken in the event of a breach, including communication protocols, mitigation strategies and post-incident analysis.

By implementing these best practices, you can effectively combat IT and SaaS sprawl to establish IT environments that are as secure as they are productive.


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