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How to stay on top of software sprawl

Last updated on
December 3, 2019

Tools are the basic bones of business – we need to keep sharpening and adjusting them to stay relevant in a constantly changing digital environment... but there’s a difference between quick adoption and meaningful adoption of tech. Too many businesses are sitting on a mass of unruly, uncoordinated software that doesn’t actually offer any real value. But how do you manage this software sprawl, let alone contain it?

What is software sprawl – and why is it bad?

The rise of tech has, unsurprisingly, led to a rise in the number of tools we use for work. The more companies try to solve productivity through tech, the more their toolsets grow, making it harder than ever to manage the cost, consumption, and compliance of each tool – let alone monitor how often they’re being used. This phenomenon is known as software sprawl, and your company suffers from it if you:

  • pay for tool features you don’t use;
  • use multiple tools with similar feature sets;
  • keep subscriptions for tools you hardly use;
  • Use a handful of apps for one business function;
  • Continue to use tools that interrupt your productive flow;
  • Use tools that add new tasks or inefficiencies into your workload.

According to a Flexera Software survey, 64% of employees feel they have more desktop apps than they require. In marketing tech alone there are over 7,000 different tools! Even smaller companies, with 50 or so employees, still use around 40 separate software apps. A McAfee study found that a typical company uses 1,427 different cloud services; the average worker uses 36 various cloud apps in one day. Our idle tools and apps consume unnecessary network, hardware and IT resources – and persevering with low-quality tools also results in hours of wasted time.

How to control software sprawl

For our tools to be useful, they need to continually serve our interests – and instead of keeping a tangled set of semi-relevant tools, we need to be more selective. So what are the best ways to refine your business tools and keep on top of software sprawl?

1. Conduct a tool inventory

Begin by creating a complete inventory of tools used across your company. Make sure each tool explicitly states which teams use it, what they use it for, who owns the account, and how much it costs each month. It’s also a good idea to list other tools that offer a similar functionality or background. By doing this you can visualize the suite of tools across your company in one centralized place – essential for investigating the value of each tool. Seeing everything in one space also encourages people to keep a leaner company toolkit and be mindful of the tools they contribute towards it.


2. Track your tool usage

Automatic tracking tools like Timely show you exactly how much you use certain tools across web and desktop. By capturing all the time you spend in different work tools, you get a fully accurate record of your app usage – helping to reveal which apps are most vital to your work. As an added benefit, they are great for highlighting potentially unproductive and disruptive tools that steal you away from important work, or require a disproportionate amount of your time.

Also check out Timely's sister product Dewo (which is completely free to use!). It provides daily stats on your app usage, so you can quickly see which tools you spend the most time in and which you hardly ever use. It also highlights the specific apps that cause you to switch context, which is useful for addressing your productivity and rooting out the invasive tech in your stack.

3. Review subscriptions plans

Over the years, as team structures and talent change, it’s easy to accumulate a mass of tools which are perhaps only used for one or two functions – if still used regularly at all. Once you’ve identified all your tools and how you use them, review your subscription plans to make sure you’re getting the best deal for your requirements. You may be able to downsize plans for those tools your teams rarely use, but still occasionally need.

4. Find specialized economical alternatives

The business tool landscape is increasingly favoring targeted tech, built to do a few tasks very well. It’s a direct response to the bloated feature lists and rabbit-warren UI of heavyweight solutions, which often target a whole handful of disparate problems without solving any single with any satisfaction. Consider curating select, flexible app toolkits instead of saddling your company up with expensive all-in-one lifetime solutions – it may take a little more research up front, but the affordability and ROI of your toolkit should speak for itself.

Specialist apps for common low-value tasks

How to measure a software’s value

When considering new software or deciding which existing apps you could do without, you need a solid understanding of the value they will give you. A few essential qualities to help you measure that value include:

Fitting a specific business need

Many popular tools justify heavy monthly subscriptions by convincing us they we might one day need the huge functionality suite they offer. But more often than not, we don’t. Be tough on additional features – don’t pay for something you’re never going to use. Often smaller-scale apps built to solve one or two specific business needs are more appropriate and cost effective.


If a software regularly breaks, has bugs, or requires constant management it’s definitely not worth keeping. Check software releases to see how much maintenance goes into your tools – and the frequency of that maintenance. Instead of just constantly building new features, software developers should be regularly updating and improving the existing ones.


The best work tools are built so that you spend as little time actively managing them as possible. Usability counts for a lot here – your tools should be simple to use and easy to navigate, so employees don’t waste time fiddling with them. They should also fit into your workflows instead of introducing new inefficiencies, and integrate seamlessly with your other essential business software.

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