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Identifying Tool Sprawl and Its Impact on Your Company

You’ve heard ‘tool sprawl’ being thrown around before. Now you’re asking yourself what is it, is your company suffering from it, and what to do next? Here’s some advice.

In today’s modern world, companies of all sizes and maturities can suffer from tool sprawl. So how do you know if your company is one of them, and what can you do to help solve it?

Some questions you can ask yourself are:

  • How many tools is my organization using?
  • Does it cost us more money to have all these tools?
  • Are these tools adding value?
  • Do we have duplicates of the same tools, or are there tools doing the same thing?
  • Can we optimize our tool load?
  • Are employees spending more time looking through the tools than doing the actual work?

What Is Tool Sprawl?

Before moving forward with solutions, it’s crucial first to understand what tool sprawl is.

Tool sprawl is when organizations build up their tool stack until it costs more money and time spent filtering through the tools than the return value. It is debilitating to organizations as it creates inefficiency across the entire development lifecycle.

In a study done by Automic back in 2016, we see that 53% of respondents said their development teams don’t have a standardized tool stack. In addition, about 40% have shared that their companies use between five to 10 tools. Lastly, for larger organizations, over 53% use 20 tools or more.

You can see how outrageous these numbers are and how much of an effect they can have on your organization. In the past five years, dozens of new tools have been developed, and we see these issues are still prevalent, if not worse.

What are the Effects of Tool Sprawl?

The adverse effects of tool sprawl include the reduced speed of innovation, siloed data and lack of integration, and most concerning, reduced productivity:

Siloed Data and Poor Integration

Developers and DevOps Engineers require specific tools to build, manage, and monitor their systems. But when more tools are added without proper planning and integrations, they can cause more harm than good.

It’s crucial to consider how many tools each of your team members are using, if they are tracking the same things, and if they are in communication with each other. With each team member looking at different tools, it becomes difficult to understand which data is the most accurate or where there may be coverage gaps. Overall, this will lead to poor visibility of the system and challenges in collaboration.

Unfortunately, this leads to a lower rate of innovation and team members who are concerned and afraid of making necessary upgrades due to the risk of harming the current work and infrastructure.

Increased Troubleshooting Time and Lack of Innovation

With data being siloed across many different tools, developers can easily become impaired by all the data that is or isn’t tracked when trying to resolve an issue. There are two scenarios here that we want to avoid.

1. Noisy Data -- Too much data will create an overload of information for the team, making it difficult to identify the details that are needed to move forward.

2. Coverage Gaps -- Too little data will create gaps of knowledge where critical information isn’t available.

In both scenarios, it is more difficult to detect regular or irregular system activities and locate where the source of the fault is. Therefore, there’s a slower response time to both detection and repair time, pushing the product’s development behind schedule, which causes a domino effect.

Reduced Productivity

Although most teams implement tools to help monitor their work and improve their productivity and efficiency, we tend to see the opposite with tool sprawl. Because each team within the same departments suffer with this, it takes more time to analyze the data rather than coming to conclusions and improving the product.

This, together with poor communication, impacts productivity on a much larger scale -- it’s another domino effect that can and should be avoided.

Now you’re wondering, what about the business’s scalability? Unfortunately, with tool sprawl this will also be hurt. As your teams spend more of their time going through the different tools and comparing the information, they cannot focus on the work that matters and move the business forward. But by streamlining your tools, you can solve this problem and progress rapidly and efficiently.

What Now?

Now you want to implement a plan with your teams to optimize the tools that everyone is using so everyone is on the same page and can work together efficiently.

Understand from your teams what are the tools that are being used and what can be dismissed. Have your teams create a timesheet to begin removing unused tools and training everyone on the necessary ones.

Once everyone is all caught up, you can successfully move forward and begin the real work.

Editor's Choice
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer