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How to Take a Measured Approach to Tooling in IT

As more and more IT tooling comes on stream, companies run the risk of bloat, security risks, slowdown, and increased costs. How can companies cope and look at the problem through different lenses?

With no shortage of tech tools on the market, how many is too many in a tech stack? A recent study identified that large companies on average are using 367 software apps and systems to complete their work. While an abundance of tooling has been great for digital transformation, the increased use of different software is one of the biggest challenges for IT right now.

It’s important for IT teams to take a measured approach in onboarding and reviewing tools, while paying attention to how tooling is being linked up. If not done correctly, tools in play across different teams with varied priorities can lead to rogue data sources/license usage, priming a business for security risks and excess costs.

So how can IT leaders think strategically about their tooling?

Let’s look at the following lenses to help IT teams tackle the problems we all face.

Lens 1: Tackling Bloat

As we scaled LearnUpon in the early years, we realized that we naturally required a lot of software to do our jobs and help our teams deliver great product. Once we got past those early days, the realization was deeper than the initial observation: We didn’t have a good grip on our tooling and what it was used for. We had no way of controlling the tools we introduced.

We solved this with a multi-pronged approach.

First, we went back to the basics and created a spreadsheet that noted up all the tooling we had, which team(s) used it, the costs associated, and the business case. This helped to depreciate tooling no longer in use and to identify which tools could be consolidated into a single solution.

From there, we implemented a new vendor request (NVR) process to gather information on the need for the tool with cost and projected growth details. We continue to refine this process over time, but it enables us to analyze if new tools can solve a problem that no other solution in our stack addresses.

The trick to successfully wrapping an NVR process lies in the hands of IT teams. Taking ownership of any approved tools once they go through cross organization approval as the “license firewall” can control them over time and manage costs (more on that in a second).

Ultimately, keep it as simple as you can, both the process and tracking. A spreadsheet works like a charm and ironically there is tooling out there to track the tooling you use. Let’s reality check: Being measured means being realistic about your costs, asking the right question at the start, including “Do we need this tool? Can we use something else?”

Lens 2: Managing Costs

It’s all about the future when it comes to cost. You might introduce a tool for a small team today, but how will growth impact the cost over time? The simple spreadsheet approach is an easy way to get a handle on projected spend.

Think about plug-ins and licenses. On the former, not all tooling has a fixed fee model, so it’s key to ask the hard questions at the start while looking at the growth and what “pay as you go” features you might need later. On licenses, who needs full versus restricted access? I’ve found success in creating a shared read-only license account where that’s the case, particularly for team members that find value solely in the data. IT team ownership over both will help keep costs balanced and controlled.

Beyond this, the subtle, hidden art to cost controlling is focusing on ROI. Each tool should provide a demonstrable impact on cost saving, increased efficiency, or another piece of improved ROI. But it doesn’t stop post onboarding. After six months, ask if the tooling achieves the ROI projected and if not, then it might be time to reconsider your use of the solution.

You won’t always get it right and decisions can later feel like hindsight is 20/20. Don’t overthink it but do take time to project and hypothesize.

Lens 3: Bolstering Security

If a team is scaling quickly and introducing loads of new tech, it’s easy to lose track. Make sure to keep an eye on your onboarded tools in order to mitigate any risks that come with losing sight of any one solution.

Beyond an initial security check phase (you can build this check into the aforementioned NVR), implement a VPN approach to add an extra layer of security since applications often process sensitive data. We use Okta, which consolidates the applications together in one SSO solution alongside our VPN, which then controls who has access to what. But there are other options out there, too.

We are all the keepers of security at our companies -- no matter the role. Equip your teams with the tools to succeed in this realm by creating a culture of knowledge sharing that uplifts security with strengthened passwords, two-factor authentication, and strong anti-phishing awareness.

As we head into the new year, it's the perfect time for IT leaders to take a fresh look at their solutions. By reviewing them through these lenses, digital transformation can continue to help us operate, innovate, and scale smartly.

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