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What is App Sprawl and How to Limit the Damage in Your Business

Some of us are drowning in a sea of app overwhlem and it's not surprising. According to research from the Harvard Business Review, the average knowledge worker uses upwards of 30 apps every single day. Welcome to app sprawl! Here's how to manage app sprawl for you and your teams.

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Some of us are drowning in a sea of app overwhel, and it’s not surprising. Welcome to app sprawl! 🥵

According to Harvard Business Review, the average knowledge worker uses upwards of 30 apps every single day.

In today’s digital-first environment, you’ve likely noticed an ever-growing presence of apps and software tools in your daily operations. App sprawl, often referred to as “app overload” or “stack sprawl,” emerges when organizations accumulate an excessive number of tools and software, leading to reduced process efficiency and operational challenges. 

And it’s becoming a significant problem for organizations striving to maintain streamlined and efficient workflows and happy employees.

What is app sprawl?

Ultimately, app sprawl is not just about having too many apps; it’s about how this surplus impacts your productivity and, ultimately, your bottom line. 

Whilst you might never have heard of the team ‘context switching,’ you’re probably familiar with the effect of it. It’s what happens when you switch focus or applications mid-task.

In fact, that probably sounds pretty normal, but is it? Should it be? And what is the effect?

Context switching and app sprawl

56% of workers mentioned in the 2022 Anatomy of Work Index feel that they have to respond to notifications immediately. And a study conducted by Stanford University found that switching between multiple projects can lead to higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Bottom line? Context switching leads to burnout and poor productivity.

The importance of streamlining tools

According to Canva’s 2024 CIO report, 72% of CIOs will prioritize consolidation as more apps enter the market and the complexity within workplace tech environments increases.

However, it’s as much of a people and business issue as it is an IT one, as worker well-being is directly impacted. 

The unchecked growth of software components can transform software management into a daunting task, especially in environments with rapidly changing and expanding software architectures. This often results in “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” scenarios where employees struggle with toggling across different apps all day, impacting not only the employee experience but also creating significant security risks.

Addressing app sprawl is crucial for businesses looking to optimize their software stack and
ensure they’re getting maximum value from their technology investments for both their people
and the business.

Causes of App Sprawl

Understanding the root causes of app sprawl is essential for businesses looking to streamline
their software stack and enhance operational efficiency. Typical causes of the increased use of
app usage can be attributed to;

Business growth

Typically as businesses scale, they recognise the need to implement systems and processes. This is great. As this happens, faster ways of doing things are found through the use of tools. However if too many tools are purchased, and not analysed for their primary function and their ability to integrate with other tools, it’s a mess. 

Business growth is good but people, processes and technology should always be aligned.

Lack of Centralized Management

A significant contributor to app sprawl is the absence of centralized management within organizations. When HR and business lack visibility into all the applications used across the company, apps are purchased at will.

This lack of oversight allows departments to independently purchase tools without joint HR and IT involvement, leading to a dispersed and unmanageable tech stack.

Decentralized Procurement

Decentralized procurement processes that typically happen within small to medium businesses further exacerbate app sprawl.

Without centralized procedures, departments often choose their tools without HR and IT
oversight, resulting in duplication and data disparities that make it difficult to share information and achieve holistic insights.

This scenario is compounded when employees can directly purchase apps they want, leading to
unnecessary app acquisitions and contributing to the sprawl.

Fast-Paced Tech Adoption

The rapid development and adoption of applications and AI tools, driven by the need to keep up with technological advancements, also play a crucial role in app sprawl. 

Organizations trying out almost every new tool in the market without a strategic approach to their actual needs contribute to the increasing adoption of tools.

Workplace Culture

Workplace culture significantly influences app sprawl. A culture that does not prioritize the strategic procurement of cloud-based applications for employees’ daily needs leads to individuals purchasing tools without management approval. 

Additionally, a lack of proactive training on the latest tools in the market results in employees trying out new applications without alignment with the business.

Challenges of App Sprawl

Security Risks

Security Risks are a significant challenge in managing app sprawl. With an increased number of applications, the security risks escalate, potentially leading to severe data breaches and compliance violations.

Unmanaged applications, lacking visibility and control, exacerbate these risks by exposing sensitive information and creating potential entry points for unauthorized access.

Increased Costs

Increased Costs also burden organizations dealing with app sprawl. Redundancies in software functionalities lead to unnecessary expenditures. For instance, the overlapping features of multiple tools can result in wasted resources, where businesses might end up paying for similar services across different applications.

Capterra graph on app sprawl
Source: Capterra

Reduced Productivity

Reduced Productivity is another critical challenge. Employees often waste significant amounts of time switching between multiple apps, searching for information, or adapting to different interfaces, which detracts from their core work responsibilities. This constant context-switching can lead to cognitive fatigue and decreased efficiency.

Inefficient Collaboration

Inefficient Collaboration arises when different teams use varied applications without proper integration, leading to communication barriers and workflow disruptions. This disconnection can prevent effective collaboration and hinder the overall operational flow within an organization.

Best practice for choosing tools and alleviating app sprawl

So how do you decide on what tools are best to help your business stay organized and to scale and grow. Here are a few best practices to help you manage the process;

Audit your tools

To effectively reduce app sprawl, it’s essential to evaluate your current tools and identify any redundancies or gaps. Start by conducting a thorough audit of your existing applications, assessing their usage, and determining their ROI.

Consider your people and the business

What use cases do you need your app or new software to provide? Are you in need of documentation or employee onboarding, or employee training? Is there a way to combine everything? Ask each team to make a list of requirements in terms of tasks need to be achieved (not what tools they want to use), in order to create a concrete needs analysis.

Create a single source of truth

What happens when information is spread across a range of tools? No one knows what’s happening, what’s up to date or where the latest version is. To counteract, consider investing in a single, secure source of truth.

Integrate with other tools

To reduce the risk of context switching, you need to ensure that your tools are integrated with one another.

You’ll save time by automating manual integrations, and they save money by preventing costly mistakes.

Evaluate ROI

There’s nothing like a shiny new tool. We love them! But tools that are great and tools that add value are not necessarily the same thing.

Ensure that every new application that is purchased will deliver ROI to the business.

Employee Training

It is fundamental to train all employees on how to request new software through centralized procurement practices. 

This includes making team members aware of the problems caused by trying to use too many apps. Implementing thorough training for employees on approved tools ensures effective use and reduces the likelihood of adopting unapproved applications.

Practice centralized procurement

Utilizing tools that are purchased at company level, or at the very least approved at company level, provides centralized visibility into tools, ensuring that people, process and technology remain aligned.

The benefits of a consolidated tool stack

Consolidating tools into a single suite offers numerous advantages, from improved data accuracy to enhanced user experience. 

Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Reduced Costs: Minimizing the number of tools reduces subscription and maintenance costs.
  • Improved Data Integration: A unified tool suite ensures seamless data flow across different functions.
  • Enhanced User Experience: A single interface simplifies the learning process for staff and employees alike.
  • Better Decision Making: Comprehensive analytics and reporting capabilities provide deeper insights into business metrics.

Bottom line

By fostering a culture that prioritizes strategic procurement and utilization of technology, businesses can not only prevent the pitfalls associated with app sprawl but also unlock new avenues for growth and innovation. 

Most importantly they prevent the unwanted effects thereof on their biggest asset; their people. 

Ultimately streamlined operations lies in thoughtful, informed strategies and practices that consider not just the apps themselves but the people who use them.

The journey toward mitigating app sprawl is not just a task—it’s an opportunity to redefine how technology empowers and enriches a business and it’s culture, ensuring that every tool and application serves a defined, valuable purpose in the organization’s overarching goals.

FAQs on app sprawl

Application sprawl refers to the unmanaged spread of software applications within an organization, leading to operational inefficiencies.

According to research by Harris Poll, employees spend, on average, at least two hours a day — or 25% of their workweek — just looking for the stuff they need to do their jobs! This includes information and documents.

This is valuable time that could be devoted to work and innovation.

STOP FLOPPING AROUND

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