How To Assess Your Software Stack

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Routine business assessments are vital in keeping your organization agile, lean, and cost-efficient. For small-business leaders in technology and operations-focused roles, it's common to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technology and applications used for different purposes. Different teams might use technology that seems redundant, and you might notice your technology budget growing year after year.

To keep your business streamlined and organized, use a formal, scalable process for regular assessments to vet your software stack thoroughly. So how should you perform an assessment of your current software stack, and what are the benefits of undergoing this process?

What is a software stack?

A software stack is a collection of systems that work together to make a complete platform. A software stack might be composed of several layers that include hardware, operating systems, applications, and user-facing interfaces.

Your software stack works to achieve a common goal, and stacks are either custom-built from scratch or put together holistically. All of these independent components work together to execute and run various applications that keep your business running.

For small-business leaders, you might have different requirements for your software stack that keep it cost-effective, easy to use, scalable, and accessible. Assessing your unique software stack helps ensure your data and systems are proactively backed up, your sensitive information is accessible but secure, and you're staying within your software and technology budget.

What are the benefits of regular software stack assessments?

Continually assessing and optimizing your software stack helps improve performance and will allow your stack to grow as your company grows. Software stack assessments also help your business utilize dynamic new tools, ensure you're staying compliant, and make sure all of your applications are well integrated. Take a look at some of the other benefits of regular software stack assessments below.

Improved performance

Regularly assessing your software stack helps improve your overall network and infrastructure performance. Continual assessments help ensure you're using the fastest application for quick load times, which creates a better customer and employee experience. Also, you're able to assess redundancies and tools potentially slowing down your business operations. When your overall software stack performance is improved, employees can get more done in less time, customers can access data and systems quickly, and your business can run at optimal speeds.

Increased security

As applications and platforms release software updates, you'll want to ensure you're using the latest version of any tools. These patches usually secure potential vulnerabilities, include bug fixes, and shore up security defenses. 

Regular software stack assessments help you maintain both compliance and security standards by ensuring all of your technology is up to date. Legacy, retired applications, or hardware in your software stack creates vulnerabilities and weak points, allowing cybercriminals to potentially take advantage of those vulnerabilities.

Maintain cost efficiency

Continual software stack assessments also help with cost efficiency. Not only can you address inefficiencies that will improve your overall network performance, but getting rid of or canceling tools will reduce unnecessary costs. Especially if you're operating with a limited budget as a small-business leader, every dollar counts. 

Plus, bundling services within a single provider is another way to reduce costs. If you're cutting expensive technology, see if another provider offers the same features for an incremental price increase.

Flexibility and scalability

As your business grows, your software stack needs to change. Optimizing your infrastructure ensures you're using the right platforms and tools that can scale up in demand as you need them. This scalability might include increasing workloads, users, and data, and the last thing you want once you hit a huge growth spurt is to realize your software isn't keeping up. 

If your business experiences seasonal volatility, such as a slow January or an extremely busy August, then you might have temporary times when you need more or less support. Ensure your software stack is flexible in increasing or decreasing demand.

How to assess your current stack

While many small businesses have limited time and resources, software stack assessments are incredibly helpful and provide insights into your business health. It's important to execute regular software stack assessments to ensure positive user experiences, continued performance optimization, and cost efficiency.

Prepare for the assessment

Before your IT or engineering teams embark on a software stack assessment, it's important to prepare to get the most value.

First, define the scope by identifying a key segment of the business and particular systems and software that the department uses. Tackle each segment of the business one at a time so assessment teams aren't overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications. 

Second, assemble a team of key stakeholders in both IT, leadership, and other departments. In workshop settings, begin identifying applications and technical stacks in use. When deciding which business segment to tackle first, focus on the one that can have the most immediate impact across both customers and internal users.

Rate each software application's level of fitness

Once your teams are organized and you have an assessment focus, it's time to rate each software assessment and its fitness. The goal is to determine the overall application's health in terms of business fitness, technical fitness, and cost fitness.

To reduce subjectivity, all members of the working group should evaluate and rate different applications, focusing on the key indicators of health. Consider elements such as security, production stability, cost profile, future potential, architectural alignment with other systems used within the company, and more.

Use the fitness ratings to develop a plan for what to do next

Now, it's time to rate the application based on both business and cost fitness indicators. The Tolerate, Invest, Migrate, Eliminate model or "TIME" is helpful in subjectively discussing your software stack assessment with all stakeholders. [1] This model also helps build a high-level roadmap for software stack rationalization, rating and classifying each application under the following categories.


These are applications that are in good technical shape, but maybe they lack business support, leading to decreased activity or a poor user experience. These applications would stay in the software stack until stakeholders decided to improve their usefulness.

Perhaps your sales intelligence software isn't the most user-friendly, but the system contains years of activity and historical data, making it difficult to build a case for switching applications. Plus, this software might be utilized every day, and its technical support and stability are sound.


For high-quality applications that are valuable to the business, these tools are the ones you would allocate budget funds to upgrade or turn on new features and functionality. For example, maybe your customer relationship management (CRM) system sees high productivity from employees and is stable and continuously updated. This might be a software to invest in an upgrade for increased usage or features.


For applications that are perhaps old and outdated, IT might be concerned with the potential vulnerability and consequences of using legacy technology. IT teams might want to modernize or migrate the systems and address this technical debt. 

For example, maybe your small business is utilizing old, hardwired phone systems that are clunky and difficult to scale. Perhaps you see a need for a unified cloud communications tool that combines video messaging, calls, and secure meetings to enable collaboration and productivity from anywhere. This might be a place to migrate a system to a new and improved application.


In this ranking, applications are a poor fit for the business and are poorly ranked for technical suitability. These would be eliminated or replaced with new technology. For example, maybe your business once had a plan to scale to multiple locations, and therefore, you bought supply chain or logistics software that is simply no longer needed. Instead of keeping this in your software stack, eliminate it to free up budget space and reduce security vulnerabilities.

Once your software stack assessment team has ranked each application on this quadrant, it helps guide the conversation around potential improvements, replacements, and any remediation that needs to take place. Teams can also adequately prioritize what applications need to be tackled first and which are a lower priority.

Start assessing your software stack today

For small-business leaders, software stacks require regular review and optimization to keep your business operations running smoothly, especially as technology quickly evolves, and outdated software stacks can quickly turn into a problem. By assessing categories under the business, technical, and cost fitness of each application, you can align internal stakeholders on plans moving forward.

With the numerous benefits of software stack assessments—from saving money to improving performance and increasing security—this is a critical framework for small businesses to maintain, especially as your company grows. Continually optimizing and assessing your infrastructure allows you to remain cost-efficient and agile, and it even allows you to invest confidently in new technologies and systems. Start by putting together a cross-functional team. Rate each application and utilize unbiased fitness ratings to develop a plan for what to do next.

To learn more about acquiring and maintaining software for your small business, check out the below resources