SaaS discovery methods: How to identify your entire software portfolio

Mitigate the effects of unmanaged SaaS by gaining complete oversight of your stack

Leon Brown | MAR 16, 2023

8 min read

If your business makes use of any kind of software, capturing and understanding your SaaS usage is vital. To put it simply, you wouldn’t pay top dollar for a brand-new phone, laptop or PC just for it to sit around unused — so why would you waste money on under-utilized software?

As SaaS tools continue to proliferate, the average business now deploys as many as 110 applications as part of its daily operations. As a result, it’s become increasingly challenging to track usage, renewals, and ensure that security standards are being met.

But with the average SaaS stack growing by 18% each year, it’s crucial that every single tool remains of value to the business. If you’re not comprehensively documenting the software that you’re subscribed to, certain tools could be going under-utilized or altogether abandoned — while unvetted tools you’re unaware of get used instead.

So how do you know where to start to gain a thorough, accurate understanding of your software portfolio?

We can help you to discover your entire software stack and mitigate the effects of unmanaged SaaS — providing clarity on which tools are being used, what they’re being used for, and the usage rates within your organization.

Let’s take a look at some of the most effective ways that businesses are discovering and cataloging their software usage today.

Five common SaaS discovery methods

With the right application discovery tools and an effective approach to managing your software licenses, you’ll be equipped to assess your stack, take back control of unmanaged SaaS applications, and detect shadow IT.

Here are some of the common SaaS discovery methods that are used:

1. Manual spreadsheets

The traditional approach is to ask employees to log any software subscriptions in a shared spreadsheet. Typically, this will comprise details such as the vendor, number of licenses, price, user base, and so on — but this is getting more and more challenging to do as SaaS stacks sprawl out of control.

With the number of tools that different departments are using, it’s just not practical to update a spreadsheet indefinitely with each newly-procured app. This is because when it comes to manual record keeping, you have no guarantee that the details you’ve been provided with are accurate — you just won’t know if every app is logged, or if the information is even correct.

2. Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) platforms

Thankfully, there are alternative methods that can streamline the cumbersome manual process. A CASB platform is a method of discovery that gives organizations the ability to permit and restrict access to cloud-based services on a user or device level. These tools are useful to help detect shadow IT and restrict unsanctioned software usage, protecting against potential security threats.

They can also help to uncover general SaaS usage and provide insight into the user base for your applications.

3. Browser extension

Distributing a browser plugin can help to track any software usage taking place on company-sanctioned hardware, whether it’s approved or not. But while this can help you to detect shadow IT, it’s not a one-stop solution — browser plugins can’t monitor any of the activity taking place on personal devices or other browsers.

4. Financial records

Inspecting financial systems within the company is a reliable way to identify software contracts. By ‘following the money’, you’ll be able to uncover any subscriptions that may have fallen by the wayside. You’ll need to inspect invoices, direct debits, and staff expenses, as there may be cases of employee-purchased SaaS that the company is paying for.

However, financial records provide little insight into the actual usage patterns that accompany your software contracts — so for full insight, you’ll need to combine this with another discovery method.

5. Single Sign On (SSO) platforms

At Vertice, our software discovery tool uses SSO (Single Sign-On) to automatically track and monitor SaaS usage for our customers. SSO tools provide you with the user names, device times, and access times for the apps in your stack.

SSO can be implemented with most modern applications, helping to illustrate organization-wide software usage and inform IT and procurement teams about user behavior.

The benefits of SaaS discovery

Uncovering your SaaS tools is the first step to a streamlined, optimized SaaS stack.

But what specific benefits can you expect from cataloging all of the software in use at your organization?

Reduces wasted software spending

Software discovery helps businesses to spot where SaaS contracts are going under-utilized, and identify the contracts that could be consolidated or retired from the stack.

Our data tells us that in the average business, 33% of SaaS tools are either barely used, or not used at all by the intended employees. This translates to more than $1m in software spending for companies with over 600 employees — and huge missed opportunities for cost savings.

By gaining a fuller picture of SaaS usage within the company, procurement teams can work to optimize SaaS spend, for example by right-sizing their SaaS stacks by downgrading contract tiers, seat count or other features to better fit the needs of the company.

Increases buying power

Our data shows that up to 89% of software vendors include auto-renewal clauses in their contracts. If you fail to keep track of when these renewals are due, you could find yourself locked in for another subscription term to a contract that isn’t providing maximum return on investment.

Data shows that 89% of software vendors include auto-renewal clauses in their contracts. If you fail to keep track of when these renewals are due, you could find yourself locked in for another subscription term to a contract that isn’t providing maximum return on investment.

By discovering and documenting SaaS, your organization will be able to keep track of your renewal schedules as part of a comprehensive SaaS system of record. This means that you won’t miss out on any opportunities to negotiate contract terms, or be caught out by pending auto-renewals that could prove costly for your business.

Promotes security and compliance

Lastly, software discovery tools help to detect shadow IT. Shadow IT occurs when members of staff use unvetted software and personal devices to store and transfer sensitive information, which may infringe on security and compliance standards that are put in place to protect data.

Unfortunately, this is happening more than you might think — a recent report by Gartner estimates that total cloud usage within an organization is ten times higher than known cloud usage.

By gaining visibility on the tools in use across the organization, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, your IT team can reduce any instances of shadow IT and protect against costly data breaches.

What SaaS information should you be identifying?

To gain the best possible insight into your software portfolio, here’s what we recommend tracking:

  • Number of SaaS licenses for each application — assessing how many licenses are paid for and how many are in use can help you to gauge usage among your workforce.
  • Cost per application — beyond just the upfront fee, are there any overage fees or custom features that are draining your IT budget?
  • Start and end date — this will allow you to identify your contract timeline and prepare what action you’ll take when the contract ends, be this termination, consolidation, or renewal.
  • Termination notification length — if you’re looking to end your contract, you’ll need to know how much notice to provide, and any termination window to abide by.
  • Total contract value — calculating the return on investment associated with each contract in your SaaS stack will help to inform decisions about retaining or retiring certain solutions.
  • Billing frequency — each contract you subscribe to will have a different billing cycle. You might pay for a tool monthly, quarterly, or yearly — and knowing when these payments will be coming out of your accounts can help you to budget effectively.
  • Additional line-item details — there are usually fine-grained details in your contract that can help you to gain a full picture of your spending, for example, unit price per license or license allocation.
  • Regulatory compliance — do the tools in your stack each comply with relevant regulatory requirements? This will help you to assess whether any contracts need to be retired in order to protect your data.

How Vertice can help you identify your SaaS applications

Vertice can help your business to discover, track, and optimize the SaaS in your portfolio. We’ve recently added SSO application discovery to our platform, which provides real-time monitoring of the tools that your employees use for work.

Our risk-free service combines this insight into a one-stop convenient dashboard for complete SaaS management. And what’s more, our expert negotiators can help you to secure the best possible deal on all future procurement, using the pricing benchmarks of over 13,000 global SaaS vendors.

See for yourself how much you could save on your annual SaaS spend with our free cost savings analysis tool.

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