Last year, we reported that it doesn’t take long for growing organizations to end up with 100 or more SaaS applications running within their walls. This is far from conjecture, especially here at BetterCloud, where our IT and business systems teams manage a whopping 300+ SaaS apps.
We know what you’re thinking: How on earth do they keep such a large cloud-based environment under control?
I wanted to know the answer to that question, too. So to learn more about how we manage all of that SaaS, I chatted with Justine Bienkowski, director of SaaSOps and corporate IT, and Rudy Fraser, senior director of business systems.
Editor’s Note: This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
First off, what traits and skills do you look for in people who work in SaaSOps and manage lots of SaaS apps?
Rudy Fraser, Senior Director of Business Systems: Creativity and empathy are really important. I’m always looking for people who are able to work with other folks and be compassionate. We always need to ask ourselves, “How can we solve this problem?”
Justine Bienkowski, Director of SaaSOps and Corporate IT: It’s important to have an open mind, too. There are so many different applications, and each one looks and works differently than the rest.
Looking at technical skills, is scripting important to you?
Bienkowski: Not for SaaSOps, generally. But it depends. We needed to hire someone who had scripting skills because we wanted to up-level our SaaS management. But I don’t think that it’s necessary for an entry-level person to have that.
Fraser: We want folks with general technical knowledge and understanding. You also need talented people with API knowledge to make sure everything’s connected, a deep understanding of integration, and an understanding of SAML and SSO. We look for knowledge and experience, but also self-learning and curiosity.
How do you deliver effective training to use SaaS apps?
Bienkowski: Training is a toughie because each person learns a little bit differently. You can have a “lunch and learn” session, but not everyone’s going to show up. And one event is not going to stay relevant forever because that application might get updated. Sure, people can watch a recording but it’s not super fun to watch a video of someone walking through an application. Documentation is always good, but the problem is that it always needs to be updated. Training is a challenge.
Fraser: The toughest is continual re-education. Documentation in concert with a repository of resources for folks on the system side is helpful. For our Revenue Ops team, we created a comprehensive reference available on Google Docs about Salesforce. It includes all the data points, what all the fields mean, how we use all the different record pages, all the different apps that are connected to it, and who to go for more information. If someone misses the initial training or just happens to have a question about something that’s in the document, re-education is easy.
When you boil it down, SaaSOps is enabling a business to use a best-in-breed strategy. To make that happen, we’re seeing some IT teams evolve into SaaSOps teams. How is your team structured?
Bienkowski: Each person has a unique skill set, so we put them in a position to focus on the tasks they’re better at. But we all still need to be generalists because we’re such a small team. It’s not scalable for one person on my team to be handling a very specific application. In that scenario, having just one person on sick or vacation leave would leave us in a lurch—and that would create an incredibly negative employee experience.
Fraser: And on the business side, we all try to share the load of managing and administering applications. If one person’s out, you don’t want to wait in most cases. But some jobs might be less time-sensitive.
For example, we have a person who wants to move more into a business systems analyst role, so we recently gave her ownership over the relationships with our vendors. She has an ongoing dialogue with the vendors who want to have monthly and weekly syncs. We look to her to answer some critical questions: Are folks getting value out of the application? Are there any problems that need to be flagged?
A big part of SaaSOps is automation, which organizations need in order to scale. How much time do you spend automating and creating zero- or one-touch tickets?
Fraser: Justine just crushed a bunch of mid-lifecycle management workflows in BetterCloud.
Bienkowski: What I should say is that Cam, our IT automation & SaaSOps engineer, and Dennis, our senior IT & project management specialist, did a great job. They created 25 to 30 workflows just to deal with mid-lifecycle management, which is really awesome. We needed structure. Setting up workflows for onboarding, offboarding, and mid-lifecycle management makes user management so much easier.
And another big part of SaaSOps is the tools themselves. What’s your process and philosophy on implementing new apps?
Bienkowski: At BetterCloud, we have a vendor management process for bringing a new application into our ecosystem. We want to make sure that it connects with everything else that we have. We know who needs to be the admin, but there’s also a financial planning and analysis and legal review of the terms. Then the security team verifies to ensure that the security capabilities of the SaaS app are up to our standards.
Once that process is complete, Rudy and I assist in implementing it into the environment. The number one request on Rudy’s team is always the Salesforce integration, because that’s the source of truth for a lot of different teams at the company. My team will make sure if it’s SAML capable, and we’ll make sure we can use Okta, our identity provider. If the new app supports Google sign-in, we’ll help set that up. There are some applications that require being able to send from a BetterCloud email address, and that’s something else that IT can help set up.
Fraser: It takes a village when it comes to implementing new technology. We try to evangelize for the vendor management process because it makes a huge difference if everything gets evaluated under a microscope. After you create a record, we track progress in Jira and there’s a shared Slack channel for notifications. That makes it easy for the team to ask critical questions, like whether we opted for the plan that offers SSO or if there’s anything from a business systems standpoint that we can help with. Our vendor management process allows us to be more proactive and be ready whenever a request comes in.
Sounds like you’re almost part of the procurement.
Fraser: Definitely. We check to see if we already have a tool that meets a “new” business case. The process helps us stay on top of things and identify what our folks really need—especially when it’s a solution we’ve already procured.
So is it fair to say that a big part of your job is understanding what the user is trying to solve with the new tool they want?
Fraser: Yes, and those conversations can turn into projects. We take a consultative approach and ask a lot of questions.
Bienkowski: That’s also something that we’re trying to get at with the internal #BetterIdeas channel, which is a place for people to submit ideas that increase everyone’s day-to-day efficiency. For example, shadow IT is an issue because people are trying to solve a problem. It’s not like they’re trying to spend money for no reason. They have a legitimate issue.
We’re trying to find ways to help people surface problems sooner so that Rudy and I can help find a solution for them or find the right tool—or teach them how to use an existing tool that maybe they didn’t realize solved that use case.
Sounds like when you hear, “IT should be embedded in the business.”
Bienkowski: We’re trying to be stickier in people’s minds. It’s not always easy. Some of our conversations tend to start with, “Hey, I noticed that you are using this tool and we have five other tools that do the same thing. Why are you using this one?” It’s an ongoing challenge, but it’s worth the effort, especially as more people across the org begin viewing IT as a business partner rather than a cost center.
To learn more about how BetterCloud can help you discover, manage, and secure your growing library of SaaS applications, request a demo.
Want to hear more from BetterCloud experts like Justine and Rudy? Check out The SaaSOps Show on YouTube.