What Is Vendor Sprawl? And How You Can Solve It.

5 min read
  • Information Technology
  • Integrations

As businesses have become more digital, many specialized applications have been developed for all different kinds of services, whether it be for recruiting new employees, providing security for data stores or analyzing data on sales leads.

While the never-ending variety of applications available to businesses can be a boon, this creates the perfect setting for collecting numerous applications or solutions, also known as Vendor Sprawl.

What is vendor sprawl and what is the cause?

In the simplest of terms, vendor sprawl means “my business has too many applications.” Looked at in a more measured way, vendor sprawl is inefficiency, whether financial or technical, that results from having application redundancies (i.e. having more than one application for the same functionality in different departments) or applications that don’t integrate well together (i.e. where information has to be manually retrieved from one system and manually entered into another).

Vendor sprawl has many causes, including:

Siloed departments and agencies

Groups that work together, but have too little knowledge of each other’s processes, can end up using different applications for the same information, making exchanging and maintaining information more difficult.

Piecemeal solutions

Some departments, such as human resources and accounting, may require specialized functionality for their day-to-day business activities. If an organization chooses to use a vast tapestry of specialized applications, instead of a small number of more versatile ones, it may find itself with a vendor sprawl problem where applications are not communicating effectively with one another.

Long-standing legacy systems

Although legacy systems may be familiar to employees, they may become outdated as technology and customer expectations evolve. Organizations that choose to add on additional applications to address these challenges, instead of replacing the legacy application, may find themselves with more applications than they need.

Lack of system updates

Although most cloud and SaaS products provide automatic updates, some desktop applications do not. An organization may end up shopping for additional applications with functionality that a simple update of an existing application would have provided.

What is content sprawl?

Content sprawl is similar to, and much of the time can be attributed to, vendor sprawl. However, instead of an organization having more applications than it needs, it has more data stores than it needs. Of course, managing redundant data storage applications can contribute to both content and vendor sprawl.

What happens when vendor sprawl isn’t addressed?

If you feel your organization may be experiencing vendor sprawl, it is better to address it earlier rather than later. This is because vendor sprawl can create a variety of challenges for your business, including:

Security issues

A large part of information security is limiting the avenues a malicious actor can take in compromising critical data. Vendor or content sprawl can leave multiple locations and/or applications vulnerable to hackers and other threats.

Friction in services

If your organization uses a multitude of applications, and those applications do not communicate smoothly, new inefficiencies arise. Data might need to be manually entered by employees as it’s moved along in a process, which can slow down business activities and result in more opportunities for human error.

Frustration for employees in an already ultra-competitive job market

In a world of remote work, where many job-seekers can pursue opportunities from anywhere in the world, it’s important for organizations to stay competitive as employers. Manual data entry, communication breakdowns and other inefficiencies resulting from vendor sprawl, may frustrate employees and lead them to subsequently jump ship.

How is vendor sprawl addressed?

Once vendor sprawl is identified, it can be difficult to overcome if not addressed properly. Here are a few steps your organization can take to minimize vendor sprawl:

Form a steering committee

The best way to start addressing vendor sprawl is by forming a group of employees with similar goals. Taking on a business challenges as a team can bring in a variety of expertise to the process as well as enable your organization to address issues quickly and efficiently.

Understand organizational needs

The overarching theme of how vendor sprawl scenarios start is an inability of organizations or teams to accurately identify business needs. Be sure to list any current needs in addition to as many future needs as your organization and its teams can reasonably identify. Having a list of needed functionality can help your organization better construct a digital ecosystem that works for everyone.

Address common business needs using existing applications

Once business needs are identified, look at your organization’s existing applications. If there’s an expected business need that an application you already have can address, or can address by being scaled up or updated, that may be the best option.

Additionally, if you’re finding that your digital ecosystem as it stands is not sufficiently meeting business needs, it may be time to reevaluate some core or legacy systems. It’s important to assess systems regularly, and whether they should be replaced with more flexible, scalable applications that can address a wider variety of current and potential future business challenges.

Integrate applications across the enterprise

Even when you use the most versatile applications possible, your organization will very likely have more than one or two applications in its digital ecosystem. In these cases, vendor sprawl can be mitigated with the right integrations that allow applications to exchange information easily. Integrations come in many forms: APIs, native functionality within existing applications, or custom solutions. Additionally, integration platforms as a service (iPaaS), help bring platforms together and ensure that the information they share is in a consistent format.

Don’t forget to iterate and change as technology evolves

One of the best pieces of advice one can give to organizations looking to mitigate vendor sprawl is to not get attached to one particular application or process. To keep pace with changes in the business climate, organizations can update their existing applications, replace them with more robust ones or add additional applications to their digital ecosystem. While adding additional applications may seem simple in the short term, it may be prudent to dig a layer deeper and examine how your existing applications function. The way they work now may be familiar, but a significant update or outright replacement of existing applications could go a long way in mitigating vendor sprawl.

Continue Your Journey

A great way to mitigate vendor sprawl is to have robust applications that can provide a wide range of functionality to meet business needs. With process automation, document management, records management and intelligent content capture capabilities, an enterprise content management (ECM) platform can be a boon for organizations looking for an application to meet most or all of their needs.

Check out the below resources to learn more about how ECM can help your business be more efficient.

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