Attack of the Zombies

by | October 26, 2023

As Halloween approaches, we caution you to watch out for zombies – in your IT department, that is! Many enterprises have devices, servers, circuits, and software licenses that aren’t being used, known as “zombies”, but they don’t have the right tools in place to quickly allow them to identify and eliminate them.

While not out for brains, IT “zombies” are almost as pernicious, as they eat away at the time, management resources, and budgets of the IT department. Per a study by IAITAM, companies on average waste 37% of their software spend on unused seats alone, audit and optimization of your high-drain, low-to-no value investments and clearing your plate can free up critical resources that can be redirected to initiatives driving innovation, expansion, growth, and other high-priority company goals.

Learn what to look for and a process to follow to help manage your technology zombies before your tech stack becomes an apocalypse.

Where to look

#1. Telephony / Collaboration

Technologies that fall under the umbrella of telephony and collaboration include:

  • Teams
  •  Zoom
  • Circuits
  • Messaging Apps
  • UCaaS and CCaaS seats
  • POTs lines

… and many more. Typical cost structures for these types of services include a rate per seat or individual license issued by the vendor. Though it may seem like this arrangement prevents overpayment, ensuring that you pay for exactly what you’re using, the nuance lies in how vigilant you are about monitoring unused license allotments and adjusting your contracts accordingly. For example, compare your active directory to O365 license counts and eliminate licenses that don’t have a corresponding user.

Over time, your growing company may have opened and shuttered new locations, onboarded and offboarded employees, transitioned to remote / hybrid work, or migrated systems or technology—as a result of the rapid change many dynamic, growing companies face, things are easy to lose or leave behind in the shuffle. You may not remember (or investigate) what you’re paying for and what you no longer need, and while you may not notice outright, you will notice the impact on your budget.

Here’s what this might look like…

  • Paying for inactive users on group collaboration apps like Teams or Slack
  • Forgetting to unsubscribe from an app used for communication while onboarding an app that includes remote employees
  • Undergoing an RIF or gradually downsizing employee headcount, but leaving your licensing capacity the same as when you were at peak
  • UCaaS and CCaaS seats and licenses remaining assigned to employees who are no longer with the company
  • Disconnecting circuits or services at locations that have been vacated

All of these scenarios are commonplace in growing and changing companies yet left unchecked these mistakes can be costly.

#2. Mobility

Every worker may have one or more company devices or personal devices being paid for by the company. There are apps and user licenses tied to those devices – which include smartphones, iPads, laptops, mobile hotspots, and POS devices. As a business changes morphs and evolves, some of these devices may remain connected when no one is using them– meaning you are paying for phantom devices.

Let’s say an employee leaves the company, but the IT department didn’t receive or turn down their mobile service for a smartphone, hotspot, laptop, or even wearable device– and keep in mind that, often, a combination of these devices will be company-issued or paid for. Without proper monitoring, there’s no telling how long that device will stay on the company bill, even when the employee is long gone.

It’s crucial to monitor your mobility environments monthly to ensure what you’re paying for and whether or not they’re still on board or in the same job position. Not only might you be paying for one unused device– you may even be doubling down. For example, imagine that an employee changes roles from a customer service agent to a sales lead. Though their usage and program access needs have changed, you may still be paying for their CCaaS seat, as well as their new user license for sales software. Failing to adjust your license or contract headcount by even just one seat can cost roughly $1,800 per year– as eliminating just one CCaaS seat can present an average savings of $50-$150 per month.

In addition to cost, failure to properly manage your devices presents security risks. You’ll want to make sure that former employees or those handling turned-down devices can’t access sensitive information and ensure proper end point security for disconnected equipment.

#3. IT

We’ve discussed before the spookiness lurking in Shadow IT. Do you know which company-bought systems are being used, and which are being subverted by Shadow IT – a term referring to employees using their own software and applications below-board?

Maybe your marketing team is using Zoom, finding it easier to host face-to-face meetings with clients from outside organizations. Meanwhile, all of your other departments are using Teams, the software that you’ve instituted with IT’s approval and monitoring. Not only are you wasting money on unused seats for everyone in the marketing department, you’re also being opened up to the inherent security risks of user-managed software in your enterprise. It’s much easier for an individual account holder, who may lack IT skills and cybersecurity training, to be hacked than it is for a bad actor to slip by your dedicated IT department.

Another example of Shadow IT is your Dev team using Slack to communicate without going through the IT department. Or, HR could be using a SaaS platform for managing employee records and reviews… without IT’s knowledge. Figuring out what programs are being utilized by your team can help you meet their needs and provide protection by running these programs above board, and perhaps eliminating unneeded seats and programs. In fact, you may be able to strike a common solution that bridges the gaps of unique departmental needs, and by doing so can uncover opportunities to get a deal on these programs with economies of scale. It’s more productive for your company to offer the programs people want, and more secure to have those programs running above-board.

IT Zombies don’t only hide in the shadows– they may be invading your cloud / spot instances, costing you more than you think in programs like AWS and Azure. Here’s are a few examples of what that might look like:

  • The Dev team is building an app. Team 1 of developers is in the prototyping stage for a component of the app, and they spin up instances of AWS to develop. Team 2 is still working on UX of the app onboarding process and wants to A/B test a user journey and spin up another instance. Team 3 is QA testing another component of the app on another instance in AWS. The app goes live and is deployed on a 4th instance. Does anyone go back and turn down the other 3 instances once the project is complete?
  • Marketing is prototyping a website. Marketing is using AWS for the build, but the current site is being hosted on Azure. When the site goes live and they push it to Azure, did they remember to turn down AWS?
  • Operations is deploying a new cloud-based SaaS ERP. The current ERP is hosted in a hybrid cloud environment with an instance on Google Cloud. When they finish the migration to the new ERP, do they turn down the old ERP instance?

The same goes for other unused SaaS licenses. CRM, project management software, finance and accounting, marketing technology, and other commonly used SaaS programs can have multiple unused instances still running, chipping away at your budget simply because no one remembers to turn them down.

Now that you’re aware of the dead-ends your unused software and apps may be leading to, you can begin to fend off the attack of the IT Zombies. To do so, you’re going to need to follow a meticulous process. Here’s how it works:

The process 

Step 1: Build and audit your inventory

To build an inventory, you’ll want to check with departments that have intel on your current programs. Get copies of your invoices from finance, check with the providers listed to see usage, then discuss with department heads what is still needed and what can be eliminated. For example, a usage report on a circuit can tell you if it’s being used at all. If not, IT can make a judgment call: keep it or let it go? Salesforce may be able to tell IT how many licenses haven’t been used to log in in 3 months or more and then take that report to sales and ask the sales leader if those seats can be removed.

The thing about inventory building is that you can do it yourself– but it’s cumbersome. Conducting your own audit or inventory is quite time consuming, and it’s easy to miss pieces if you don’t know where to look and how to navigate invoices. We recommend investing in a professional audit that follows the paper trail of your bills, invoices, payments, and usage analytics and presents you with the findings. A trained professional will gather all of the necessary financial documents and sit down with department heads and finance reps to get a picture of usage and understand who’s using what. If you choose to work with a professional, expect to pay hourly or contingency, like a percentage of first-year savings.

Another benefit to enlisting a professional is the experience and institutional knowledge of working within provider invoices, as well as a repertoire of professional relationships that you can leverage when adjusting or negotiating bills and contracts. Once you have your initial findings and move on to step two, this leverage will be helpful.

Step 2: Optimization

It’s crucial to turn down everything no longer needed– devices, instances, and seats. Once you determine what can be cut, reach out to vendors and ensure that you make the necessary adjustments to your billing and contracts. While unlikely, it never hurts to ask for a refund from vendors for unused software and services. In both the renegotiation and refund requests, a trusted advisor will have more success. They know the levers to pull, the language to use, the terms and conditions of the contracts, and may even have relationships to help grease the wheels.

While making these changes, try to uncover economies of scale. If half the company is using Zoom and half Teams for conference calls, uniting and choosing one service to provide can help you get an enterprise or large group deal from your preferred vendor, and you can negotiate to consolidate and lower costs. Assess the cost impact of these changes, understand the true amount and value of the cost savings, and allow IT to own that cost reduction. This helps appeal to leadership, creating a pathway for future advocacy and possibilities for expanding IT funding.

Now that you’ve done all of the work, don’t lose track of it. Step three will help you eliminate future mistakes. This will turn your cost savings exercise into an ongoing cost avoidance.

Step 3: TEM / MGMT platform

The moment you have a full technology inventory, it’s already out of date. Unfortunately, changes happen every single day, especially in growing companies, those with multiple geographical locations, and those undergoing staff changes.

Once you have completed steps one and two, you need to actively manage your technology with the information gleaned to avoid repeating this painful process. Using a TEM or other management platform can help you accurately assess usage, budgeting, billing, and needs on a month-to-month basis so that you can nip problems in the bud and avoid overpaying or overexerting limited resources. TEMs have become more advanced and can now help you monitor more than telecom expenses, like auditing cloud consumption environments, e.g., Azure and AWS, to help you monitor spot instances or monitoring usage on specific circuits. The savings you achieve by using a TEM can be redirected to funding other initiatives that contribute to the growth and innovation of your company.

How UPSTACK helps

One article can’t cover each and every cost-saving opportunity in your IT environment, as each enterprise is different and requires unique practices, procedures, and tools to achieve their unique goals. But, the overall philosophy is the same: a dedication to management, accountability, and being detail-oriented in your IT environment. Operating with this paradigm in mind will cause other opportunities for savings to reveal themselves– but it needs to be done continuously and regularly in order to keep the zombies at bay. If you struggle to find the time, resources, or manpower to do so, UPSTACK’s expert team is here to help fend them off.

Though IT Zombies may be rampant in your company today, there are professional options that can best help you slay them. Our team has ample experience with performing audits, finding substantial cost savings and optimization opportunities, leveraging the economies of scale opportunities that you may uncover to get better pricing, and helping you procure and manage a TEM solution. Essentially, UPSTACK is your expert guide through every stage of this recommended process, helping ease the burden.

Fighting zombies is a heavy lift. Don’t lift it alone. Contact UPSTACK today to learn how we can help.