As software has become increasingly more ubiquitous within the workplace, IT teams have had to take on greater responsibility in managing and maintaining the many applications employees rely on. But keeping tabs on these myriad platforms and products is no easy task. 

In addition to the general proliferation of software—with many products performing the same or similar tasks—it’s become easier than ever for individuals to purchase software without IT or leadership approval. Subscription-based software as a service (SaaS) models have lowered the bar for entry and made these tools more accessible to more teams—sometimes even bypassing the need to have a corporate credit card handy to make a purchase. Plus, free, freemium, and free trial programs allow teams to use and experience the value of some SaaS tools before they ever commit to a full contract. 

But for IT teams, this low barrier to entry can actually create a slew of new problems—particularly in large, enterprise organizations. As teams go rogue and purchase whatever software they want without IT approval or oversight (aka “shadow IT”), corporate security and compliance are put at risk. This portfolio “wild west” also leads to duplicity as teams purchase products and plans to solve problems the organization already has established solutions for.

The best IT teams create solid product-led IT strategies to rein in sprawl, understand software engagement and utilization across their entire organization, and help employees be as successful as possible with the tools at their disposal—rooted in digital adoption and portfolio management tools.

What is a product-led IT strategy?

A product-led IT strategy is a comprehensive plan that denotes how the products and software an organization relies on should be used (and how they contribute to business goals), and also leverages the product as a channel through which to influence and guide ideal behaviors. The purpose of a product-led IT strategy is to unify cross-functional teams with a shared understanding of the portfolio landscape, improve visibility into how the software the company builds or buys is being used, and help teams across the business maximize return on their tech investments (ROI).

What challenges does a product-led IT strategy help solve?

Without a clear strategy in place, it’s challenging for IT teams to align their goals to those of the broader organization—namely improving the user (in this case, employee) experience. Not having a defined strategy also results in IT teams becoming overly reactive—rather than proactive—when it comes to issues concerning compliance, security, or budget and portfolio management

Here are a few key ways a strong product-led IT strategy helps organizations operate more efficiently and empowers employees to work more effectively.

1. Improved security

When departments or teams buy or build apps that aren’t IT-approved, they put the entire organization at risk. One major concern is unauthorized data access. As teams set up these apps, they may select settings that allow the app to access data from other, non-approved sources—potentially opening the door for malware or other threats, or even for external parties to (accidentally or not) tinker with proprietary source data. Integrating unapproved software products into the tech stack can also compromise pre-existing security measures. And for businesses operating in highly regulated industries or countries, shadow IT and unapproved use of external software can cause the company to fall out of compliance—resulting in exorbitant fines or legal action.

The proliferation of no-code / low-code platforms has also made it easier than ever for teams looking to build their own internal-facing software without IT knowing about it. But absent the right data and an understanding of the challenges the product needs to solve (and for whom), it’s not uncommon for these homegrown apps to never truly deliver on their intended ROI, and to cause the business to waste valuable time and resources.

A product-led IT strategy rooted in product analytics allows IT leaders to regain control of their tech portfolio so they can educate employees on safe IT practices, work with departments and teams to ensure the tools they need remain in compliance with corporate standards, and improve data security and governance throughout the organization.

2. Reduced spending and duplicity

Between 2018 and 2020, the amount of SaaS apps companies purchased increased 30%, while the average amount of money spent on those products climbed 50%. Today, the typical enterprise company spends over $4 million annually on SaaS products and holds a portfolio of over 270 apps. But the reality is that many of these apps go underused (or even unused), leading to wasted budget that could have been allocated to other high-priority efforts. And for the apps employees do utilize, it’s not uncommon for some to serve the same purpose and provide equivalent functionality as others already in the tech stack.

By including product goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) in their IT strategy plans, IT leaders can measure the ROI and business impact of each piece of software in their portfolio. This allows them to advocate for resources as needed, measure and prove the value of one tool over another, and make smarter decisions about resourcing in the future. For homegrown apps, this kind of insight helps IT teams make sure they’re making investments in the most valuable or high-impact functionality, and gives IT and development teams actionable guidance for their roadmap.

3. Increased employee productivity

SaaS sprawl can also hurt companies’ finances in less direct ways—particularly when it comes to user productivity. If different departments or teams are leveraging different apps for similar reasons, they’ll have less visibility into what their colleagues are working on, and will be less able to collaborate and communicate effectively. They may also get confused or frustrated when it’s unclear which app to use for which workflow or process. Ultimately, this leads to an increase in support tickets and help requests that can quickly overwhelm the IT team. 

With a product-led IT strategy, companies spend dramatically less time on activities like support, data collection, and user onboarding—which contributes directly to boosting productivity. Product-led IT teams also prioritize helping users be as productive as possible, as quickly as possible, by providing always-available, personalized guidance to users directly within the context of the apps themselves. The result? On average, product-led companies reported:

  • 15% reduction in support ticket volumes
  • Ability to collect product and user feedback 30% faster
  • 27% reduction in the time it takes to onboard new users

4. Better employee experience

Finally, a confusing app landscape worsens the employee experience—increasing the risk that individuals or teams will churn and flock to organizations with more mature IT ecosystems. When employees struggle to do their best work and feel as though they’re constantly fighting the processes and tools they rely on, they’re less likely to feel a sense of satisfaction in their day-to-day work or be as productive as they’d like to (or need to) be—causing them to fall short of their goals. 

A strong product-led IT strategy (and a clear IT roadmap) is a powerful tool for driving employee happiness and retention. By leveraging product data, IT teams can identify users who are thriving—and those who are struggling—and target them accordingly to provide the necessary guidance. In this way, IT teams empower internal teams to do their best work.

The best product-led IT strategies also include initiatives to solicit ongoing feedback from software users so that their experiences can continually be improved and optimized. This not only improves IT’s delivery of the products employees rely on, but also helps those employees feel heard and valued.