Do you have too many digital tools?
About two years ago, Adam Hempenstall noticed that his company was overrun with digital marketing tools. His team at Better Proposals, a proposal automation platform, had been loading up on apps, each one dedicated to a specific task.
"We had this phase of buying every marketing tool out there," he remembers. "For analyzing traffic, increasing conversions, tracking heat maps and recording visitor sessions, showing exit-intent popups, social proof notifications …."
Each tool seemed potentially useful on its own, but because there were so many—and so much data to pair with them—the team wasn't using the chaotic pile of tech effectively. Hempenstall decided to hire a marketing leader who could choose and use tools strategically in the context of a well-thought-out marketing approach.
"We realized that less is more," he says. "And it really worked out: We grew massively, all thanks to proper leadership instead of investing in tools that no one knew how to use properly and the data that no one knew how to interpret."
Proliferating tech tools
Hempenstall's is a common story these days. Digital tools have proliferated in the past few years, especially with the sector's growth and companies' adoption of such tools turbocharged by a shift to remote work during the pandemic. Many of the tools have helped move businesses forward, making employees more productive and operations more streamlined. But there is a threshold at which the number of apps your employees are using slows them down instead of helping them out.
In other words, there is such a thing as too many digital tools, resulting in decreased instead of increased productivity. According to a survey of 2,500 HR decision-makers and workers by HR software provider Personio, 37 percent of respondents reported feeling they have too many digital tools to manage, and 36 percent said managing all the tools was disruptive to their work. It's no wonder this is the case when the average 500- to 2,000-person enterprise reports using more than 800 cloud-based apps.
Beyond workers' concern with workflow, the proliferation of tools brings various other management issues that can hamper the efficiency and cost effectiveness of business processes across an organization.
"As technology organization leaders, we've embraced a more agile, tactical approach to solving the problems in front of us with the best options available at the moment," says Judah McAuley, director of engineering at performance marketing firm Tinuiti. "But that leads to more entropy, and unless there are strategic approaches to rein in that entropy, it's easy for it to get away from you."
Problems with too many digital tools
What does it look like when your digital tools get away from you? Numerous issues can crop up when you've lost control of your tech. Let's look at some of the most prominent.
Enabling employees to purchase the tools they believe they need is a way of helping them have ownership and independence in their work, but it can easily cause confusion—and even chaos.
Reducing approval overhead increases the chances that you'll wind up with apps that duplicate the same functions, multiple licenses for the same software, unchecked spending, and no central method of tracking when each tool isn't needed anymore.
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"In high-performance organizations, we need to have autonomy," say McAuley. "But autonomy without direction leads to situations where groups are working at cross-purposes. So how do you enable local decision-making while still providing structure that ensures that those decisions go in a compatible direction?"
Many digital tools—especially SaaS tools—are not bank-breaking by themselves, which makes it easy for workers to purchase without thinking too hard about the decision. But those many smaller costs add up, and huge amounts of wasteful spending can go unnoticed if no one is tracking the total.
"I've done audits and realized that we were spending thousands on Jira plugins we weren't using," McAuley says.
Those thousands of dollars could be put to other uses within the business or be repurposed to contribute to a more substantial piece of software that can consolidate several functions under a single fee. There's no right amount to spend on digital tools, but there is a right way to spend on tools to ensure a return on investment.
Security is another big concern with the proliferation of digital tools. Every new app comes with the need for permissions and oversight, which can create many points of weakness when all your tools aren't centrally managed.
Additionally, many SaaS offerings connect a license to a single email or user account. If the employee who purchased the license leaves your company, there may be no way to use the tool without convincing the vendor to transfer ownership, assuming it even has a way to do so.
Another issue is that it's now common for companies to have a bring-your-own-device policy, a situation that makes licensing and oversight difficult to centralize. Companies must give up control over the security of employees' devices, which introduces potential vulnerabilities as digital tools proliferate.
Tips for keeping digital tools in check
How can you tell if you're falling into the trap of letting your digital tools get the best of you? And what can you do to prevent it or fix it when it happens? Here are a few tips to help you stay on top of your ever-expanding digital ecosystem.
Your first step should be an IT audit, which will give you a comprehensive picture of the tools you have, what they cost, how they're being used, what policies govern them, and how they relate to one another and your company's goals.
"Organizations should do regular audits to ensure they have a good understanding of the tools they're using, what the costs are, and how it all fits in with their compliance requirements," says Vinay Sahni, co-founder and CEO of Enchant, which makes customer communication tools. "If you look at your bills and realize you have no clue why you're still paying for a tool, you really need to step back and do an internal audit to get a better understanding of the big picture."
Part of the problem with having too many tech tools is that too many different vendors, policies, fees, licenses, and agreements are involved in your organization's daily management. Make it your first order of business to consolidate your tech into fewer applications once an audit has revealed where there are duplicated functions, aligned functions that can be combined, or extraneous functions that can be pared back.
If a specific tool stops filling your company's needs, it's a good time to look at whether you can combine its functions with another instead of simply finding a replacement for that single function. Doing so has the advantage of streamlining management and reducing security risk.
"Where possible, I prefer to consolidate our bills with a smaller set of vendors," says Sahni. "This helps both in controlling costs and in limiting our compliance risk surface area."
A key improvement you can make to your digital tool management is exactly that: management. In many cases, digital tools get too abundant because there is no single employee or department charged with overseeing them all and keeping an eye on how they interact or overlap.
In other cases, insufficient awareness about and training on tools that are currently employed has resulted in employees neglecting to use them and instead adopting new apps with duplicative functions or buying new licenses for apps the company already uses.
Streamlining your technology use starts with educating employees on the tools that are already at their fingertips to make sure they are helping instead of going unused or, even worse, hindering the profitability and progress of your organization.
This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.