4 Questions with Uber’s Shobhana Ahluwalia

4 Questions with Uber’s Shobhana Ahluwalia

Software as a service has significantly impacted the way companies operate, both in terms of how employees maintain productivity and in the entire role and function of the IT department. Today’s IT teams continue to focus on infrastructure and security, but they’re also tasked with preparing teams to become champions for technology. This is especially true in today’s era of increased remote work, where SaaS tools are the anchors that connect employees to the organization and each other.

As a company founded on and deeply rooted in technology, Uber takes its commitment to digital tools seriously. They’re an industry leader that pushes the boundaries of what technology can do and how it should function. With more than 600 offices around the world and 35,000 people, bringing all of their SaaS applications under one umbrella wasn’t an option.

I recently talked with Shobz Ahluwalia to learn how their IT leaders are becoming more proactive in the SaaS era to deliver organizational growth and operational excellence.

Q: The speed of business today is faster than ever. What new role is IT playing in terms of leading the business forward rather than simply keeping up with it?

Shobz: The case has always been that technology should serve the business, not the other way around. We want to dig deep to find out our real goals, KPIs, the problems we’re trying to solve, and how we can be partners and work alongside our business. Knowing these things, we can bring technology to solve these things rather than invest in tools for the sake of technology.

This has been critical for us because we’re such a high-growth company. At one point, we were onboarding as many as 1,000 employees per week and we needed to ensure everyone was brought up to speed quickly and had all the tools they needed right then. We look at this from the employee experience: how can we create an environment of hardware, software, and training so that a person can come in and quickly start solving problems in a frictionless way?

Our goal is to make sure we’re focusing on business value first. We want to create a toolkit that will give employees what they need rather than fill it with tools they don’t.

Q: More employees are taking it upon themselves to bring tools into their daily workflows. How does Uber transition from being an IT gatekeeper to responsibly embracing these new tools?

Shobz: The SaaS landscape has made this more of a common occurrence. Our job in IT is to determine which tools are reliable, secure, and scalable. We have a relatively low barrier to entry for teams across the organization to bring new systems in. It’s much like a sandbox environment, in that only a few people are using their selected systems.

This is one area where Productiv has proven to be valuable for us. We can see which new tools are coming in and how they’re being used. When we see three or more organizations using the same tool, we work to bring that tool under our umbrella and put it in a toolkit so it can be used across the Uber enterprise.

This allows us to create dynamic toolkits and let employees know what’s available to them. If they want to bring in another tool, the tool must meet our security and review processes. After that, they can test it in their own sandbox environment and we can use Productiv to watch its usage and see how it grows organically.

Q: With rapid business growth around the world, what is Uber doing to maintain its agility from an IT perspective?

Shobz: Agility comes back to two things: creating business value and supporting the employee experience.

Having a readily available toolkit to onboard new hires and get them productive from Day 1 is a big piece of the puzzle. We wanted to make our environment one where a new hire can enter and immediately begin working.

To get to this point, managing the SaaS sprawl has been a huge stepping stone. We not only want to see which tools are being adopted and how often they’re being used but also which specific features are adding the most value from a business standpoint.

I can look at all of this data holistically and decide how to push features that aren’t being used or even see if those features aren’t needed at all because something else is solving the same problem. This can open up conversations with vendors to right-size our licensing and make sure we’re allocating our resources where they need to go.

Q: How has a more proactive approach to SaaS management improved the role and function of IT?

Shobz: IT leaders have a natural affinity for data, which is exactly what allows us to be proactive in managing our SaaS sprawl. Agility is built into our management because we have one place for our data and can look through the organizational complexities and drill down on multiple levels to what we’re looking for.

This is an important factor since we’re such a big organization. Trying to collect these insights without a good management tool or process would be impossible.

With the data we gain through Productiv, we can have more impactful conversations with our vendors. We are armed with a lot of information, and we can share this information with our vendor partners to right-size contracts that are best for us.

Likewise, this data allows us to demonstrate the value of the SaaS ecosystem and why these contracts are in the best interests of the organization. It’s not always about right-sizing for cost savings, but for overall business value.

Final Thoughts from Shobz

For Shobz, using data to gain a deeper understanding of Uber’s SaaS portfolio has been invaluable. Rather than relying on guesswork, they now have the right information they need to make better and more proactive decisions.

You can watch the entire Q&A with Shobz Ahluwalia here.

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