When it comes to SaaS (Software as a Service), is it possible to have too much of a good thing? The SaaS model is now ubiquitous, for lots of very good reasons. In fact, individual SaaS offerings are so affordable, and so easy to deploy (often without the input of IT), that organisations can easily end up with a tech stack that is both hazardously bloated and surprisingly expensive. 

What applications are in play within our business? Are they safe? Are they value-for-money? The larger the SaaS portfolio, the harder it is for IT managers to stay in control.

SaaS subscription management equips IT managers to address all of this. Read on for an exploration of the challenges associated with growing volumes of SaaS licences and their implications for shadow IT. In this guide to SaaS subscription management special considerations have been taken in areas such as cost control, visibility, and governance, what businesses should look for in a fit-for-purpose subscription management platform. We also look at how the new breed of advanced features – including payment options underpinned by embedded finance solutions – can significantly reduce your IT management burden. 

Part 1: What is SaaS Subscription Management?

What is SaaS subscription management?
Netskope – Cloud and Threat Report 2024.

The popularity of the SaaS model is not difficult to explain. SaaS typically promises out-of-the-box deployment, allowing users to be up-and-running on new software remarkably quickly, and access it from anywhere. With hosting, maintaining and updating in the hands of the providers, the admin burden of IT teams can be significantly reduced. And of course, there’s the cost element: pay-as-you-go is very much the norm with SaaS models, making it possible for businesses to upgrade their capabilities without a huge initial outlay, and to scale up capacity easily when required. 

How do people use SaaS subscription management?
Netskope – Cloud and Threat Report 2024.

The Challenge: why is SaaS Subscription Management important? 

The proliferation of SaaS applications and the ease with which ordinary users can deploy them without oversight gives rise to several issues. These are linked primarily to IT management, while also impacting areas such as information security and data protection, operations, and – especially when it comes to wasted or underutilised licence costs – finance. 

A growing portfolio of SaaS applications tends to introduce an increased element of sprawl to an IT estate, making it more difficult for managers to maintain visibility and control. This can result in the following: 

  • Cost inefficiencies linked to licencing, including duplication, underutilised subscriptions, and hidden costs of integration and support.
  • A wider cyber attack surface, and possible increased security risks. 
  • Compliance concerns; for instance, where employees unknowingly expose sensitive data through the use of unsanctioned cloud services or simply by using a cloud service, process data in ways that aren’t allowed. 
  • Operational inefficiencies. Without centralised oversight, duplicate software implementation activities may occur, with different departments / branches / teams adopting similar solutions independently, resulting in wasted resources, and less efficient collaboration and communication across the business.         

The Solution: SaaS Subscription Management defined 

SaaS Subscription Management (aka ‘SaaS Licence Management’, or simply ‘SaaS Management’) is the process of overseeing and regulating the purchasing, deployment, and usage of SaaS applications within an organisation. 

A SaaS Management Platform (SMP) is a tool which facilitates the management of all of these elements, all in one place. Gartner defines the seven core capabilities of an SMP as follows: 

  • Discovery. Enabling IT to uncover ALL SaaS applications in play across an organisation.
  • Management. Centralised SaaS configuration and management within a single location. 
  • Optimisation. Enabling usage analysis, alerts and insights to optimise SaaS costs. 
  •  Automation. Automated actions (powered by AI) to streamline SaaS administration.
  • Protection. Alerting and automation to protect the data processed within SaaS applications. 
  • Governance. Better management of usage policies and access controls to help ensure data privacy, prevent unauthorised software usage, and ensure adherence to licencing terms. 
  • Enablement. A user-friendly, employee-facing repository of apps to help drive adoption and usage of existing applications, and maximise ROI.  

The business case: why SaaS Subscription Management – and why now? 

SaaS lifecycle Gartner quote

So why should your business look seriously at SMP solutions? Perhaps the most constructive way of assessing this is from a counterfactual perspective; i.e. What’s likely to happen if you fail to optimise SaaS subscription management – and carry on with business as usual? 

IT managers should look at the tech landscape from the perspective of ordinary business users. In what seems like the blink of an eye, technologies such as generative AI and machine learning have gone from nascent to pretty much ubiquitous. Whether you’re a product developer looking for a quick and easy 3D modelling tool, a finance professional wanting to glam up their reports with better visuals, or a HR manager seeking quicker ways to generate job adverts and training materials, chances are, “there’s an app for that”. 

And thanks to the SaaS model, it has never been quicker, easier, or cheaper for users to purchase and implement new capabilities. The meaning of “software” and “application” has moved away from being an asset that needs to be installed on a device (and therefore controllable via OS-level admin), to the current situation whereby most tools can be accessed via the internet, potentially with zero input required from IT. 

Against this backdrop, the challenges associated with SaaS subscription management will inevitably increase if unaddressed. Businesses will leak more in wasted costs, will be exposed to increased security and governance risks, and will face an increased management burden. 

Part 2. Tackling Shadow IT and SaaS sprawl 

Tackling shadow IT and SaaS sprawl
BetterCloud – State of SaaSOps report 2023.

Shadow IT is defined as “any software, hardware or IT resource used on an enterprise network without the IT department’s approval, and often without IT’s knowledge or oversight.” (IBM)

The proliferation of the SaaS model means that IT has been effectively consumerised and democratised. In other words, it is very easy for users to take an individualistic view on what tools they need. They can also subscribe to those solutions – potentially without any involvement from IT whatsoever. 

What are the implications of Shadow IT? 

It’s worth considering this from the point of view of specific business roles… 

The IT Manager

“Budget-wise, I am under pressure to do more with less.” 

In an uncertain economic climate, the question, “Do we really need this, and why?” becomes even more important. IT managers must demonstrate that they are optimising spend. But if business insiders are purchasing software independently, it increases the likelihood of waste, duplication, and failure to get the best licencing deals. In fact, one estimate suggests that the average company wastes $135,000 a year on unnecessary licence spending. 

“We need to secure the organisation’s entire attack surface.” 

According to IBM X Force Data, the total number of known cloud vulnerabilities has doubled between 2019 and 2023, from around 1,700 to around 3,900. In 2023, an average of 8 out of every 10,000 enterprise users downloaded an average of 11 Trojans per-month. Based on this, an organisation with 10,000 users would have an average of 132 Trojans downloaded by users on their network. In the same year, the percentage of HTTP and HTTPS malware downloads originating from cloud-based SaaS apps was consistently above 50%.

IBM and Force Data stats
IBM – X Force Cloud Threat Landscape Report 2023.

So what do these stats show? Threat actors know all too well that businesses have moved en masse to cloud-based, SaaS applications not just for discrete, one-off tasks, but for storing and processing whole swathes of valuable data. Those threat actors have honed their techniques accordingly; e.g. by focusing on cloud app credential theft, misconfigurations, and vulnerabilities within subscription software services. 

Shadow IT means that IT departments have limited visibility and control over what software is in play, making it more difficult to vet what’s in use, monitor for threats, and enforce security policies. And when incidents occur, these blind spots make it harder to respond appropriately and in a timely manner. 

“I want to be a business partner, not an enforcer.”

Shadow IT can leave CTOs and CIOs facing an awkward dilemma.

On one hand, you have core operational obligations to meet: i.e. managing service delivery, vendor relationships, and technology budgets to optimise operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This is on top of oversight of technology architecture and information security. 

But at the same time, technical leaders can and should strive for a prominent seat at the table. You want to be a facilitator of transformation, and be seen and treated as an equal partner in helping define the organisation’s strategic vision. If SaaS subscription management requires you to take a draconian stance on who can use what software – e.g. forcing users to jump through hoops each time they want to acquire a new solution – then you could easily be seen less as an agent of transformation, but a barrier to it.

The Departmental Manager / Super-User

“I want a budget-friendly way to upgrade my team’s capabilities.” 

For any business unit manager seeking to enhance their team’s technical capabilities, subscription-based software options can look very attractive. This is especially the case if the offering promises easily-absorbable, predictable monthly subscriptions in place of a significant upfront outlay.

However, where departmental managers make software buying decisions in the shadows, there’s a risk of siloed thinking. Those decisions may seem perfectly logical from a department-specific perspective. But are they unknowingly paying for capabilities that are in the company’s tech stack already? Are they missing out on better-value tiered pricing arrangements? Have they factored in total cost of ownership, taking into account technical considerations such as added pressure on network infrastructure and bandwidth? 

Siloed decision-making can often mean that the ‘amazing deal’ offered for new software isn’t quite as great as it looks. 

“I want to scale up with zero hassle.” 

I want to scale up with zero hassle - Shadow IT

Very often, software is run and managed by expert users (‘super users’) within specific teams outside of the domain of the central IT function. These experts are usually responsible for onboarding new team members and tend to be the first port of call for resolving queries from ordinary users. 

When departmental needs change, these super users want the ability to scale up easily – e.g. by adjusting the subscription plan, or implementing add-ons. They want to do this rapidly, without having to wait for authorisation from IT. If this is happening frequently across multiple areas of the business, it becomes very difficult indeed for the IT function to have an accurate picture of precisely what applications are being used, and by whom. And without a clear picture of what’s ‘normal’, how can you identify anomalies? 

The End-User

“I need an effective fix for a specific business-related problem.” 

What’s more important to a front-line staff member: the IT usage policy, or the Wildly Important Goal (WIG) that’s just been handed down by their team leader? 

Employees have their own deadlines and targets to meet – and it’s only natural that they will seek out the quickest, most effective solutions to enable this. If the solutions within the official tech stack do not meet their specific needs, and there’s an alternative subscription-based offering that can be put to work in ‘just a couple of clicks’, then it is not difficult to see why employees would choose to use it; even if this means bypassing your policies. 

“I should have agency in selecting what software I use.”

One report suggested that following the sudden shift to remote working at the start of COVID-19, shadow IT increased by 59%.
Core – 2020 was a year of change Research Report

The pandemic suddenly gave many employees much more freedom in when and where work was done. Longer term, this has helped to increase a desire for what commentators refer to as radical flexibility  among employees. In other words, many workers crave much greater agency in how the work gets done. 

Employees want to demonstrate initiative, solve problems themselves – and prove their value to the business. If the policies and processes in place for gaining permission to access new software are clunky and frustrating, resourceful employees are very likely to conveniently forget or circumvent them. 

Types of SaaS Subscription models: what do they mean for Shadow IT? 

Here’s an overview of the most frequently-encountered SaaS pricing and implementation models, and the issues that can occur surrounding SaaS subscription management when implemented without IT oversight.

Types of SaaS Subscription models: what do they mean for Shadow IT? 

Pure Usage-Based 

🤔 How it works: 

Pricing is based purely on how much you use the service based on set metrics (e.g. memory capacity used within a data storage service, or the volume of messages sent for an email marketing platform). 

SaaS subscription management pitfalls: 

  • Non-technical business users may not be able to accurately estimate their usage requirements prior to sign-up.
  • Costs may fluctuate significantly from month to month, making it more difficult to budget for IT spend. 

Per-User 

🤔 How it works:

You effectively pay for each user that uses the software.

SaaS subscription management pitfalls: 

  • May incentivise ‘shadow credentials sharing’, with multiple users logging into the same account, thereby giving rise to security risks. 
  • If new users are added during high demand periods (and not removed), the organisation may be lumbered with redundant subscriptions in the longer term. 

Feature-Based Tiers 

🤔 How it works:

Users are able to level up, depending on the level of functionality they want. 

SaaS subscription management pitfalls: 

  • Individuals acting on their own volition might only give cursory consideration to what can be complex pricing structures, inadvertently choosing a plan which fails to deliver best value. 
  • To gain access to one or two specific features, users may be tempted to level up their tier, thereby effectively overpaying for a whole range of unnecessary further features. 

Freemium Software 

🤔 How it works:

You get access to a free, basic software version, usually with the option to upgrade to a premium version with additional features and functionality. 

SaaS subscription management pitfalls: 

  • When employees subscribe, they may fail to realise the absence of technical support which is often a characteristic of free versions. If support is required, the job of delivering it will likely fall to your internal team. 
  • Features linked to data storage, encryption, and access controls may be minimal with the free version. 
  • There may be an automatic transfer to a premium version once certain time or capacity thresholds have been met. Auto-upgrades give rise to undesirable and unbudgeted additional fees or contractual obligations.    

Are you interested in reading more about “Solving Shadow IT: do we need to be kinder with SaaS licensing management tools?“? Then check out the blog section.

How to overcome Shadow IT costs pitfalls 

How to overcome Shadow IT costs pitfalls 

Regardless of whether they are based on usage volumes, functionality tiers, number of users (or a combination of all of these), the pricing strategies used by SaaS vendors have certain things in common. They are all designed to lower the perceived barriers to entry, by making the process of buying software as easy, affordable, and seemingly risk-free as possible. 

If an app can be accessed for just a few pounds a month, it is only natural that a lot of business insiders will want to click the subscribe button, with little or no due diligence, and without IT sign-off. Unbeknown to these individuals, they may have overlooked a multitude of issues, including hidden costs, failure to evaluate total cost of ownership, security, support, and vendor reliability.

To avoid this, all software sign-ups – including supposedly ‘free’ subscriptions – should be governed under a single policy: one which covers the following: 

  • Only IT-approved assets to be permitted on your network. 
  • Prior permission to be sought from IT before any new software asset is purchased and deployed. 
  • IT (in conjunction with Finance) to have ultimate control and visibility over payments for software purchasing. If the SaaS subscription management system you are using incorporates embedded payment cards, this delivers that visibility to IT, while also streamlining the payments process for end-users.  

The Shadow IT ‘control v autonomy’ dilemma: balancing different priorities through SaaS Subscription Management with embedded payments functionality 

We’ve seen how IT leaders, business department managers, and ordinary business users have different perspectives and priorities when it comes to software implementation. 

balancing different priorities through SaaS Subscription Management with embedded payments functionality 

One of the IT function’s top priorities is to ensure that only approved software assets are in use across the network. Departmental managers need to ensure that their teams have access to the right tools at the right time. Meanwhile, individual consumers of technology want a reasonable degree of autonomy in selecting and purchasing tools, without the feeling that they are having to jump through hoops or being micromanaged. 

When seeking to optimise SaaS subscription management processes, IT leaders should focus on finding the right balance between central control and downstream autonomy. Here are two strategic tips for helping you achieve this: 

Tip 1: Aim for a good balance between controls and enabling features 

Robust IT oversight and a reasonable level of technology consumer autonomy do not have to be mutually exclusive. Try to ensure that any technical restrictions introduced as part of SaaS subscription management optimisation are accompanied by corresponding functionality designed to meet end-user needs.

For example, key restrictions underpinning your SaaS subscription management process are likely to be that prior permission must be sought from IT before any new software asset is deployed in your business. To make this workable – and to balance the needs of business users – it should be accompanied with an easy-to-search catalogue of existing tools available already across the network, ideally also with a bank of resources providing guidance on how to identify appropriate tools for different tasks. 

Likewise, on the software purchasing side, you will want to ensure that IT retains visibility and ultimate control over payments of software licencing. However, control does not have to mean micromanagement. By selecting an SMP with integrated embedded payment functionality, it opens up the possibility of delegating payment permissions to business users, granting them greater autonomy, in for example, scaling capacity as and when needed, and acquiring add-ons to existing services.   

Tip 2: Avoid approaching SaaS subscription management as a standalone area

SaaS Subscription Management sits alongside – and in practical terms, overlaps with – other areas of IT management; notably, security management, software asset management (SAM), digital adoption management, and purchasing/costs management. So when it comes to SaaS, IT leaders should take a holistic view of what management capabilities they need to build out, to ensure multiple priority sets are addressed. 

Software purchasing is one such area. IT needs visibility on who’s buying what. But at the same time, don’t overlook the actual payment process. If the SaaS subscription management platform you use includes embedded payment functionality, there is much greater scope for streamlining administrative workflows and reducing manual intervention in payment-related tasks. From a departmental manager / technology consumer perspective, embedded payments help eliminate the need for users to navigate external payment gateways or third-party websites to complete transactions. It means less friction – and a simplified user experience overall.  

Part 3: SaaS Subscription Management tools in focus

The traditional on-premises software deployment model is dying out, thanks largely to the fact that businesses no longer consider it to be a good match for their needs. 

In a similar way, it’s time for legacy approaches to SaaS subscription management to be replaced. With hundreds – potentially thousands – of cloud-based apps in play across an organisation, relying on IT team members keeping the ‘licencing spreadsheet’ up-to-date, or carrying out ad-hoc licencing checks is a very risky business. Likewise, if governance consists of issuing a list of subscriptions rules to end users, crossing your fingers and hoping that they are followed, this hardly constitutes a ‘strategy’. 

hundreds - potentially thousands - of cloud-based apps in play across an organisation

A new breed of tools recognise the IT management challenges caused by SaaS sprawl and its resulting consequences on the spread of shadow IT. Here’s a closer look at the features and benefits offered by these platforms.

The Basics: how do Subscription Management systems work? 

As a starting point, a fit-for-purpose subscription management system should comprise a single platform, with functionality covering the following seven core areas: 

Discovery
  • Automated mapping of your full SaaS stack, enabling you to catalogue all authorised assets, and identify unauthorised ones. 
  • Network traffic analysis, including discovery tools to monitor network traffic and identify communication patterns between devices and external services, including shadow IT infrastructure outside of your approved IT ecosystem. 
Management
  • A single, configurable dashboard for managing all aspects of SaaS management.
  • View contract, usage, payments and financial data in one place. 
Optimisation
  • Gain access to usage insights for all apps, including utilisation rates and cost breakdowns for value-for-money analysis. 
  • Break down costs by department, application, and user. 
  • Automated notifications re. redundant apps to help keep your tech stack streamlined. 
Automation
  • Instigate automated workflows for all key SaaS management-related processes, including app evaluations (incorporating user surveys), new user onboarding, and contract reviews/renewals. 
  • Automated alerts and responses for term expiry dates/renewals, approaching capacity thresholds, and payments. 
  • Automatically recover unused licences, downgrade under-utilised ones, and uninstall abandoned accounts. 
Protection
  • The ability to formalise and streamline security evaluations in order to vet new additions to your tech stack. 
  • Automated alerts for shadow IT detections, app risks, and anomalous activity. 
  • The ability to integrate with identity and access management (IAM), security information and event management (SIEM), data loss prevention (DLP) and other security solutions in use within your organisation. 
Governance
  • The ability to configure immediate alerts for new, potentially risky, or closed app usage. 
  • Generate compliance reports and conduct periodic audits to demonstrate that access and usage controls are effectively implemented, in line with your specific internal security policies and any regulatory requirements.  
Enablement
  • An easy-to-search catalogue of IT-approved apps for employees to refer to.
  • Help teams identify supported or allowed applications which are equivalent to disallowed SaaS which they might be using as a workaround. 
SaaS Subscription Management guide for embedded finance

The Game Changer: how embedded payments cards can elevate your Subscription Management capabilities to the next level 

We’ve already touched on the desirability of having a joined-up approach to SaaS subscription management: i.e. one where you balance restrictive controls with features that make software purchasing and usage easier for your users, and one which takes into account your wider management needs, around areas such as asset management and payment processing. 

For both of these, we flagged up the potential of virtual payment cards embedded into SaaS management solutions. Here’s a closer look at what this means in practice. 

How do embedded payment cards work in the context of SaaS subscription management?

  • IT managers are able to generate virtual debit cards (typically under the oversight of Finance). 
  • Individual cards can be tied to specific budgets, projects, departments, or initiatives, depending on your preferences. 
  • In the context of SaaS management, you can, for instance, generate debit cards for each subscription or subscription category. 
  • You can set spending limits and other custom rules unique to each card.
For IT Managers
  • You can finally bridge that gap between shadow IT / SaaS management policies and payments by setting payment rules for each subscription.
  • Generate new cards for new subscriptions in an instant. 
  • Promptly respond to billing and payment queries, and adjust rules on the fly (e.g. to take into account new users on a particular subscription).
For Finance Managers
  • Transaction data is fed through to a central dashboard, providing a comprehensive view of IT spend, including upcoming expenditure 
  • Manage internal budgets with up-to-date cash balances and just-in-time payment allocation. 
  • Supervise card usage and change / revoke access if needed.
For Business Users
  • Greater autonomy to pay for SaaS tools within predefined limits. 
  • Empower departmental managers, super users and SaaS admins to own the billing accuracy and efficiency of their tool stacks. 
  • Fast, hassle-free payments, enabling quicker access to the right software, right at the point of need.

To find out more about how we can help transform your SaaS why not book a quick 15 minute chat with one of our embedded finance experts:

How it works: lessons from SaaS management innovators… 

For a taste of what’s possible in terms of joined-up SaaS management incorporating embedded payment cards, take a look at these examples… 

Cledara

A single platform for controlling every aspect of software purchasing and renewals. Includes the ability to issue a unique virtual card for each tool you approve, set limits to prevent overcharge and increases, and block charges in a click… 

SaaS management innovators - Cledara

NachoNacho 

Consolidate and control SaaS payments and all other expenses in one account. Separate virtual cards for each vendor – and benefit from cash back discounts on spend. 

SaaS management innovators:  NachoNacho

Spendesk

Ideal for controlling spend across a growing IT ecosystem, Spendesk enables you to equip teams with virtual and/or physical cards – including new virtual cards for each subscription, supported by smart tracking software. Teams can request new tools in a few clicks. For Finance and IT management, all cardholders are visible from one dashboard, allowing you to track, pause, or cancel at any time.

SaaS management innovators: Spendesk

Volopay

Allows you to generate recurring virtual cards for all subscriptions. Featuring automated multi-level approval flows (ideal for new software requests), and the ability to apply precise controls to eliminate out-of-policy spend. 

SaaS management innovators: Volopay

What are the benefits of using a Subscription Management System?

Costs Savings and Optimisation 

Through a centralised dashboard, IT and Finance managers can analyse information such as licence usage rates, pricing structures, and renewal dates all in one place. The use of embedded virtual payment cards can also deliver enhanced insight in this area, potentially allowing you to generate detailed transaction data that can be tracked and reconciled with ease by Finance teams. 

Armed with all of this, you are in a much stronger position to identify opportunities for licence optimisation; for instance, by switching to more cost-effective subscription plans, or renegotiating terms based on changing business needs.

Reducing Shadow IT

Reducing Shadow IT 

So long as you have the right balance of capabilities at your fingertips, a subscription management system means you are able not just to detect shadow IT, but also help stop the causes of it

The detection element is delivered by AI-driven discovery and network monitoring tools, capable of picking up on the tell-tale signs of shadow IT usage (e.g. anomalous usage patterns and unauthorised installations). This is accompanied by automated alerts; flagging up potential shadow IT instances and enabling you to take remedial action. 

Equally as important is the shadow IT-prevention element. If it includes features such as a searchable database of existing software assets, quick and super-easy workflows for obtaining sign-off on new apps, and virtual cards that facilitate hassle-free payment, your SaaS subscription management system effectively removes the drivers that cause employees to resort to shadow IT in the first place. 

Optimised Licence Utilisation 

The detection element is delivered by AI-driven discovery and network monitoring tools, capable of picking up on the tell-tale signs of shadow IT usage (e.g. anomalous usage patterns and unauthorised installations). This is accompanied by automated alerts; flagging up potential shadow IT instances and enabling you to take remedial action. 

Equally as important is the shadow IT-prevention element. If it includes features such as a searchable database of existing software assets, quick and super-easy workflows for obtaining sign-off on new apps, and virtual cards that facilitate hassle-free payment, your SaaS subscription management system effectively removes the drivers that cause employees to resort to shadow IT in the first place.

Optimised License Utilisation

How do we make the best possible use of those hundreds of software products we have in use already? Analysis of both SaaS app usage alongside payment data from your virtual spend cards can give you valuable insight on this. 

By analysing payment and usage patterns, there’s the possibility of spotting opportunities for consolidating licences, possibly involving reallocation to users or departments where they are needed most. You can also see where it’s possible to reduce redundant subscriptions, and alter allocations to better align with actual usage requirements. 

Particularly in an era of straitened budgets, this proactive approach helps you demonstrate you are doing what you can to maximise the value of existing investments.

A better handle on security and compliance 

A better handle on security and compliance

A subscription management payment combining embedded virtual payment card functionality enables you to maintain accurate records of licence entitlements, usage rights, and compliance status. It also gives you reporting capabilities (including payment audit trails) to demonstrate compliance to stakeholders and regulatory authorities. The solution should also integrate with the perimeter protection, incident monitoring, and other security tools you have in place. 

Your new system should leave you better able to evaluate the posture of SaaS vendors, and enforce appropriate encryption, access controls, and other security measures as needed. The end result should be a lower risk of data breaches, unauthorised access, and data loss.

Achieving your business partnering ambitions 

Legacy approaches to SaaS management do not always show the IT function in a particularly attractive light. If users have to wait around for sign-off each time they want to implement a new tech asset, they are going to get frustrated and look for ways to circumvent the rules. 

The right subscription management system helps you turn this on its head. You become an enabler of change, making it as easy as possible for users to identify and make the most out of suitable software assets from within your ecosystem. And when new apps are required, the deployment of quick, easy-to-use approvals workflows and virtual cards for subscription payments makes the process as pain-free as possible. 

You can take this further by using the new system to identify and proactively recommend new assets to business stakeholders. Instead of being just a gatekeeper blocking access to the SaaS landscape, you are recast as a driver of change and catalyst for growth. 

Part 4: Choice of SaaS Subscription Management Systems 

Implementing and integrating SaaS Subscription Management Systems: strategic considerations 

Implementing and integrating SaaS Subscription Management Systems: strategic considerations 

Lack of awareness about the purpose of change, fear of the unknown, exclusion from the conversations surrounding implementation: with any new system – SaaS management included – these are some of the main reasons why business stakeholders can resist change. If you address these concerns from the outset, it can go a long way towards removal of barriers to successful implementation.  

Highlight the purpose of the new system as a positive for ALL employees:

i.e. you are seeking to create a safer, more effective tech ecosystem, where it will be easier for users to get access to the tools they need, and where – thanks to embedded payment cards – users will have greater autonomy. 

Make system choice a collaborative process:

invite input from across the business (e.g. IT admin staff, department heads, information security managers, your data protection officer, finance professionals, and of course, day-to-day consumers of SaaS offerings) on what capabilities they would like to see from any new system.

How to choose the right Subscription Management System 

  • Define your problem: how, and to what extent does SaaS sprawl impact your business? What are its implications in terms of information governance and IT management? 
  • Set out your desired outcome: what does ‘good’ look like in the context of SaaS management? What capabilities will you need to reach that outcome in areas such as governance, access controls, visibility, payments and cost controls? 
  • Build a desired feature list: with input from all relevant stakeholders. 
  • Invite proposals: armed with your priorities and a clear definition of ‘good’, you are in a position to invite proposals from vendors. 
  • Retain focus: during vendor research and negotiation, keep a focus on your own objectives rather than leaning too far into the concepts and product missions presented by providers.  
  • Remember the 80/20 rule: when scrutinising offerings, the bulk (i.e. around 80%) of your efforts should be on the organisational impact of implementation, ownership, administration, changing – and even future offboarding – of the solution, with only around 20% of time focused on topline pricing and feature lists. This should help you work through the commercials and generally facilitates a more in-depth exploration of the true capabilities of individual offerings. 
How to choose the right Subscription Management System 

Embedded payment cards in SaaS Subscription Management Systems: features to look for

As we’ve seen, when it’s embedded into a SaaS subscription management system, integrated payment card functionality has the potential to elevate SaaS subscription management from the perspective of IT managers, ‘super users’ and ordinary business users alike. 

When weighing up the potential benefits and value of virtual payment cards in different vendor offerings, here are some of the key questions to ask: 

  • Do we get a choice of format (i.e. virtual and/or physical cards)? 
  • Can we generate individual cards for specific subscriptions and/or users? 
  • Is there an easy-to-use process for authorisations? 
  • What’s involved in setting spend controls? 
  • Can we configure notifications to retain visibility? 
  • Does the process support the currencies / territories relevant to our organisation? 
  • How are the cards funded, and who controls this? 
  • How do fees work? 
  • What reports, statements, and accounting reconciliation integrations are available through the solution? 

Conclusion – best practice for effective SaaS Subscription Management 

As your next steps for elevating SaaS subscription management, it’s worth focusing on the following: 

  • Realise the need for change. SaaS sprawl is not a problem that will correct itself automatically. Left unchecked, it is only going to increase in scope and severity as more and more employees turn to a vast SaaS marketplace for solutions to everyday business problems.
  • Take into account the needs of ALL stakeholders. Fixing shadow IT can never be achieved simply by building bigger and stronger gates. Any new management processes need to have the right blend of restrictions and enabling features.

What next?

There is no shortage of tools out there that claim to be able to fix the problem of SaaS sprawl and subscription management. The focus of these solutions can vary widely, with some honing in squarely on technical challenges (e.g. app discovery and network monitoring), and others focusing on workflows for authorisations, or spend control. 

The choice of solution(s) should always be guided by your specific requirements, including factors such as the characteristics of your IT environment, data protection considerations, and the needs of users. 

However, one key element that should not be overlooked is user experience. It should be easy for administrators and managers to set effective controls and view all the information they need, all in one place. Likewise, if they are going to stop resorting to shadow IT, employees need faster and clearer access to the right software, including the ability to make payment for that software, without a long-winded sign-off process.

Embedded payments functionality offers multiple opportunities to enrich licencing management, opening up multiple options to delegate payment authority, grant greater autonomy to business consumers – while still affording technical teams with robust governance of their IT estates. If you are a software developer looking to integrate these capabilities into your latest offering, speak to us today by booking a quick meeting with our team:


Should you be hungry for more in-depth reading including research from 250 product managers for UK B2B SaaS platforms, check out our white paper: “The next steps for B2B SaaS: why embedded finance has moved up the priority list for UK B2B SaaS platforms“.

Sneak peek at one of the many findings from the research:

62% plan to implement both a payment wallet and debit cards within the next year.

The commitment to embedded finance is clear, with 62% of product managers planning to roll out both payment wallets and own-branded debit cards within the next year. This ambitious timeline reflects the urgent need to stay competitive and responsive to customer demands. As these features become standard, early adopters are poised to benefit the most from improved customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.