The serious risks of IT sprawl and how to solve through simplification

The serious risks of IT sprawl and how to solve through simplification

An inevitable by-product of having an IT environment - but what are the risks of leaving it unmanaged, and how can good ITAM help?

Published on 18th June 2024

IT sprawl—the complex, disorganized and decentralized IT environment resulting from the accumulation of tools, applications and technologies—doesn’t happen because someone made bad decisions. It’s the natural result of how we work: installing quick-fix solutions to urgent problems without considering the long-term effects.

You’re likely familiar with how it accumulates. An IT admin installs a new tool to automate Windows updates. Another adds a solution for onboarding remote workers. A third tests a management system for securing personal devices accessing company resources. Individually, these seem like reasonable choices. Collectively, they create a snowball effect, making it progressively more difficult to manage the tangled IT environment that exposes the organization to significant risk.

With IT sprawl, every new application or service requires additional time, money and expertise to manage and secure properly. The organization’s tech stack becomes increasingly bloated and complex, burdening IT teams with growing time and budget demands, all while IT spend is wasted. In fact, recent research into IT asset management (ITAM) reveals that approximately one-third of spend on IT (e.g., for desktop software, SaaS and data center software) is wasted. Meanwhile, abandoned solutions, without proper ITAM, linger as vulnerabilities. Employees, frustrated with unnecessary steps and friction in the user experience, turn to unauthorized shadow IT to bypass restrictions.

Fortunately, IT simplification is possible—and important.

Understand the risks that come from all sides

A sprawling IT landscape provides no shortage of entry points for cyberattackers to exploit. The more systems, the more potential vulnerabilities from unpatched software, misconfigurations and compromised suppliers. Recent developments in AI contribute to the threat, accelerating the frequency and expanding the scope of cyberattacks.

Compliance is another looming minefield. Disparate systems make it more difficult for auditors to get a complete picture when trying to meet industry- and region-specific regulations like HIPAA, PCI, GDPR and more. This leaves organizations to scramble to document their fragmented IT, risking violations and penalties.

Operationally, IT sprawl strangles productivity. Admins drown in tickets and manual tasks as they wrangle different tools. End users navigate a labyrinth of incompatible services, managing up to 16 or more passwords to simply get their job done. What should streamline workflows creates inefficiency.

Recognize the impact of overbuying

Many organizations make the mistake of throwing more tools at these problems, overbuying products they can’t fully utilize. But overbuying creates a false sense of security, overwhelms admins and wastes budget. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have the added challenges of lacking the resources for robust security operations and too many disparate tools to manage. Let’s look at just one example. Organizations still using Microsoft Active Directory (AD) discover AD can’t manage the Linux systems some of their employees need, so they have to add OpenLDAP or something similar to bridge the device gap. But because AD and LDAP are on-premise solutions and workers need secure access to cloud-based apps and devices, admins now have to layer single sign-on (SSO) for identity management.

In these scenarios, IT costs spiral out of control from redundant licenses, support contracts, training and opportunity costs from innovation delays. And the numbers are significant. A survey of attendees at an RSA conference revealed that over half of the participating cybersecurity professionals report having wasted over 50% of their budget and “still cannot remediate threats”; 43% say that having too many tools is the “number one challenge in threat detection and remediation.” It’s also clear that admins are seeking better approaches: 77% of admins wish they could manage their IT environment with a single tool, and well over half report feeling overwhelmed.

Tame the beast

To eliminate sprawl, organizations need to simplify and integrate their core IT stack. This requires identifying the essential systems and services required for operations and wrapping unified management and security controls around them. IT teams should:

An integrated IT ecosystem can provide significant benefits, including:

Although implementation requires upfront work, the payoffs can enable organizations to enhance security, compliance and productivity—all while cutting costs.

Start simplifying

To get started on the path to an efficient and cost-effective unified IT strategy, here are a few steps:

Break the cycle

Unchecked IT sprawl undermines an organization’s security and financial posture, cripples operational effectiveness and prevents the development of the kind of adaptability needed to meet evolving business needs. Solving IT sprawl is a critical step toward creating a secure, efficient and scalable foundation critical for success today.


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