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What is a SaaS management platform (SMP)?

Learn about SaaS management platforms, including broad tasks they perform, how they work within your IT stack, challenges they solve, key capabilities, and how to determine your requirements for effective SaaS management and business prosperity.

Two women and a man discussing SaaS Management Platform features

What is a SaaS management platform?

An essential IT management tool, today’s SaaS management platforms is a centralized administration console that IT teams use for all management activities related to an organization’s cloud-based software applications, users, data, and budgets.

SMPs help lean IT teams perform 7 broad tasks

According to Gartner, an SMP helps enterprise IT:

Uncover sanctioned and unsanctioned SaaS use and cost

Centralize multi-SaaS configuration and policy management within a single console

Simplify SaaS administration with turnkey configuration and policy templates, workflow engine and intelligence-driven actions powered by AI/ML

Analysis, insights, alerting, and automation to optimize SaaS cost and entitlement (licenses)

Analysis, insights, alerting, and automation to protect organizational identities and data within SaaS. Also includes ensuring SaaS policies and configurations are compliant with corporate, security, or regulatory standards

Foundational capabilities that include reporting, alerting, and measuring SaaS availability, as well as the breadth and depth of integrations with SaaS apps and other tools

Availability of an employee-facing application store or catalog to simplify SaaS access. In addition, analysis, insights, and alerting to help drive SaaS adoption and maximize ROI

SMPs work in harmony with other critical IT infrastructure

Even though SMP functionality expanded throughout the years, it is complementary to critical IT tools like:

  • Identity-as-a-service (idea’s): includes provisioning and deprovisioning, Single Sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), authentication, and directory services in the cloud. It performs role-based access control, password reset identity, and analytics and reporting.

    It’s a solution for basic provisioning and deprovisioning across SaaS applications. However, idea’s tools lack the range or depth of critical automated actions that are needed to fully execute onboarding or offboarding. For example, they lack functionality for data transfer, email forwarding, group settings management, calendar sharing, as well as the ability to customize actions like suspending a user and then waiting for a set number of days before user account deletion. IDaaS tools can’t assist with the security stance of assets, least privilege, day-to-day SaaS administration, or spend management.

    Enterprises with more users and/or more SaaS apps use both an IDaaS tool and an SMP. An iDaaS securely centralizes applications, devices, and end users into a single place. Meanwhile the SMP will do so much more – including discover, manage, automate, protect, optimize, govern, and enable user data and interactions within those same applications for entitlements, configurations, and sharing settings across SaaS applications.
  • IT service management (ITSM) is a key function for keeping enterprise IT operating smoothly 24/7. Because of IT service complexity, ITSM platforms are feature-rich tools to help IT track and improve service workflows, including all IT service lifecycle from design, creation, delivery, support, and to management.

    SMPs and ITSM tools work together in several ways, with the biggest benefit coming from zero touch automated help desk resolutions. By integrating these two tools and building a workflow, IT can eliminate tedious manual work. For example, a user submits an ITSM ticket for a password reset, the SMP receives that request and kicks off the appropriate chain to get that employee access sooner rather than later.
  • Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) is centralized policy-based user identity management and access control orchestration across the enterprise. Combining both Identity Governance and Identity Administration, it ensures users are who they claim to be, and implements controls for preventing inappropriate or risky access. Finally, they also document user access actions for compliance reporting.

    An IGA and SMP overlap in access management to SaaS apps and some automated functions. However, IGA does not include key SMP functions around SaaS app discovery to discover all sanctioned and unsanctioned apps, provide usage insights or remediation for security events. Nor does it manage configurations, enforce least privileged access, or ensure SaaS file security.

SMPs solve many challenges for lean IT teams

SaaS management platforms tackle many problems for lean IT teams. If one or more of these challenges are familiar to you, it may be time for an end-to-end SMP.

Which of the following does your team suffer from?

Shadow IT

Shadow IT is a persistent challenge, thanks to the ease of buying SaaS. Without IT, employees buy unsanctioned SaaS, introducing unknown security and compliance risks, as well as data governance issues.

Left unchecked, Shadow IT creates data silos, while preventing collaboration and automated management. The result is IT’s inability to control resources, optimize automation’s efficiencies, and lower overall productivity.

A SaaS management platform with robust discovery alerts IT every time a user signs up for a new app using your domain.

Lack of visibility into the SaaS sprawl

Without visibility into the SaaS environment, IT teams don’t know SaaS usage, can’t track SaaS subscriptions and vendor contracts, or monitor user adoption rates and usage activity.

With no insights into usage and spending trends, it’s all but impossible to identify redundant apps or use cases, leading to cost overruns, poor budgeting, and forecasting.

Within a single pane of glass, an SMP provides insights and analytics for SaaS apps and usage trends, so you can operate an optimized, budget friendly SaaS stack.

SaaS security vulnerabilities

SaaS poses 3 kinds of risks. First, SaaS can introduce inappropriate or dangerous data read/write permissions that imperil data security. Second, excessive admin permissions pervade because each individual SaaS application has its own predetermined admin access levels.

IT then retrofits inflexible role definitions while trying to comply with security policies, which usually means granting access to more data and controls than necessary. And as a byproduct, security takes a backseat.

Third, user file sharing – be it negligent or malicious – can leak sensitive data.

A SaaS management platform prevents all three types of risks from adverse impacts. File sharing and data exposure alerts identify suspicious sharing behavior to stop data loss or outsider infiltration.

Compliance risk

Failure to comply with regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and SOC 2 can result in legal fees, penalties, fines, and reputation and revenue loss. To remain in compliance, all organizations, particularly those in highly regulated industries, must continually prove SaaS operations follow documented policies.

Never-expiring SMP audit logs reduce compliance risk, as they show every action, and when it was taken, across the SaaS stack. In addition, an SMP shows current compliance certifications, along with expiration dates, for each SaaS app.

Wasted SaaS licenses and IT budget

Organizations often pay for too many unused and underutilized SaaS licenses. Without automation, IT can’t easily reclaim and redeploy unused licenses.

Furthermore, without sanctioned SaaS apps, IT also can’t adequately support them, and ensure users get the most out of them. This leads to unnecessary spending, poor resource allocation, and wasted money, hindering both profitability and competitiveness.

A SaaS management platform shows current license allocation, usage of those licenses, and enables automated reclamation and app access to make sure licenses are always in the hands of users who most need them.

Inefficient SaaS vendor and contracts management

Managing multiple SaaS vendors – each with its own terms and contract expiration dates is hard, error-prone, and time-consuming. It requires tracking renewals and subscriptions, as well as negotiating favorable contracts that align with business goals. Without strong tools, IT teams can miss renewal or cancellation dates, have SaaS access disruptions, and overpay.

An SMP with a contract repository and automated alerting ensures you never miss a key date again.

Manual, boring, and time-consuming onboarding and offboarding

IT teams must spend hours logging into each app’s native console to provision or deprovision licenses. Each app has a different console with different service levels, settings, permissions, and learning curve, making it a dull and error-prone exercise. Failure to complete onboarding means a poor Day 1 employee experience for a new user. Meanwhile, incomplete offboarding creates license waste, at best, and a security vulnerability at worst.

An SMP with no-code/low-code workflow orchestration capabilities save IT time and multiply operational efficiencies. It ensures that IT consistently executes user lifecycle management processes every time without the long, late hours and lurking missteps.

Inconsistent configuration management

A myriad of settings and controls for users, groups, and files are buried in a SaaS app’s native admin console. For every new app, IT must configure them for hundreds of actions like which users can share which files and to whom. And even with built-in defaults, configurations need to comply - now and in the future - with documented security policy.

IT then must continually watch for risky setting changes in all applications that constantly change, giving them the impossible task of monitoring configurations. This leaves enterprises at risk of misconfigurations and potential security failures.

On the other hand, SMPs ensure user, group, and file settings are always correct from the start and remain secure.

Monotonous help desk tasks that take up too much IT time

Some routine help desk activities like app or group access requests are performed by a team member multiple times per week, robbing them of valuable time that could be spent on more strategic projects.

An SMP allows IT to automate resolutions, sparing lean IT teams for more important activities while ensuring employees remain productive.

Key SaaS management platform capabilities

The right SaaS management platform for your business depends on your organization’s and IT team’s unique needs. To maximize time and budget savings, the best solutions are end-to-end SaaS management platforms. After all, they offer all the features and functions required for managing the SaaS stack, users, vendors, and budgets within a single tool.

The most important SMP capabilities are:

  • User-friendly and quick deployment: A tool should be easy to configure and use, offer a lot of resources, including implementation services, to get you started rapidly, ensuring a faster return on investment.
  • Powerful discovery: An SMP’s foundation is its ability to accurately identify and categorize all apps in the library as sanctioned or unsanctioned/unapproved apps, including those that are not integrated with an identity provider.
  • Pre-built integrations and easy extensibility: The best SMPs integrate seamlessly with cloud productivity tools, as well as the common SaaS apps that business functions use every day. In addition, your SMP needs to easily integrate with key IT tools like an IDaaS, ITSM, and IGA.
  • Reporting and insights for SaaS app adoption, usage, app rationalization and entitlement optimization, and employee app satisfaction pulse surveys: You should be able to get a 360-degree view of all apps in the SaaS stack. Your SMP should show how well as SaaS app is adopted by users, who and which departments use it the most, if an app is a redundant use case to another app, if an app has multiple accounts that could be optimized into a higher or premium license tier, and if users like to use the apps in the app library or catalog.
  • SaaS expense management: Use an SMP that can identify, categorize, and optimize SaaS-related spend by role and department, as well as help manage and forecast software budgeting using accrual reporting for the highest accuracy.
  • Improper file sharing alerts: Your SMP should have alerting to notify IT of sensitive data-sharing that may violate security policy
  • Software lifecycle management: Make sure your SMP can track and automatically alert on key contract renewal/cancellation dates 90/60/30 days in advance to allow time for competitive shopping and negotiations.
  • Configuration management: For time savings and high security, it’s crucial that your SMP directly manage (read/write) SaaS app configurations.
  • Simplified compliance: Your SMP should track each app’s current certifications and expiration dates, as well as contain never-expiring audit logs that show all management activities within the SaaS environment.
  • Low-code/no-code and workflow orchestration: Essential for amplifying efficiencies for routine tasks, and eliminating SaaS management work, opt for platforms with low-code/no-code capabilities, allowing your team to easily create workflows and automate tasks without coding expertise. Create custom workflow configurations faster using a deep library of common actions, alerts, and triggers. Advanced users can create additional integrations & automation use cases with a platform API.
  • On/Offboarding automation: Your SMP should have templates and a deep library of common actions and triggers to make it easy to provision new users, their SaaS apps, license entitlements, groups, and calendars as well as make mid-lifecycle role changes, and deprovision departing users from all resources and transfer files to managers.
  • Exceptional support: Look for a vendor that offers excellent support, as your IT teams deserve the same level of service they provide.

Know your needs before evaluating a SaaS management platform

Now that you know more about important SaaS management platform capabilities, you’re now faced with evaluating options. As always, buying a new solution starts with business priorities and aligning feature/function requirements to support those goals.

Before starting your search, and while you’re discerning your SaaS management needs, it’s important to know:

  • To what extent do you rely on perfectly accurate information? This may sound like a crazy question, but organizations in highly regulated environments need more accuracy than less. Companies that must adhere to rigorous security and compliance requirements, like SaaS providers, healthcare organizations, financial firms, or publicly traded companies have a higher need to know all apps than most.
  • What SaaS usage and cost analytics and reporting capabilities are required? If IT is responsible for license optimization, software budgeting and forecasting, then you’ll want a 360-degree view of usage, spending, contracts, and employee preferences.
  • How important is automation in managing and securing your SaaS stack, users, and data? If your organization has a lot of SaaS apps and/or users, and a lean IT team, it’s impossible to know every app’s native consoles to monitor configurations, monitor file sharing, support user group or app requests, do password resets, and stay up on user lifecycle management – all on an error-free and timely basis - without some automation.
  • What kind of coding skills does your team have to build and refine workflow orchestrations? If you don’t have a DevOps or coding expert, look at tools that speed your “time to automation” with capabilities like low-code/no-code workflow building, large libraries of pre-built integrations, templates, actions, and triggers, training and certification programs, hackathons, award and recognition programs, active community of users who are always willing to answer questions, and of course, great customer support.
  • Does your IT team want to work in a single pane of glass, or use multiple tabs to manage the SaaS stack? If you want to reduce management complexity and automate with ease, an end-to-end SaaS management platform may be the way to go.

BetterCloud: the world’s first, and only, end-to-end SaaS management platform

BetterCloud Workflow dashboard showing integrations and actions

Since their advent, SMPs have evolved a lot – and will continue to - with the growing adoption and changing complexity of SaaS. Leading the way, you’ll find BetterCloud.

In 2011, SMP leader and pioneer BetterCloud developed the world’s first SaaS management tool. Over the years, it became multi-SaaS (2016), added an integration ecosystem (2019), and then included no-code automation for orchestrated workflows in the early 2020s.

Then in early 2024, BetterCloud’s G2 Track acquisition added best-in-class SaaS spend management with unrivaled discovery, an employee app catalog, and license optimization according to usage, entitlements, and employee surveys.

With its complete range of functionality, BetterCloud is now the world’s first, and only end-to-end SaaS management platform. It not only supports seven essential SMP activities, but it also provides the implementation services and support to ensure that your SaaS management platform quickly drives value for a fast return on investment.

Need some help?

Made for lean IT teams like yours, try our interactive demo or reach out to learn how BetterCloud can help your company now.