Business Intelligence

How to Make Business Intelligence Your Competitive Advantage


The article below is taken from SaaS Mag Issue 3. To order your free copy, click here 


If you’re a SaaS provider, your end users are guaranteed to be great at three things: generating data, being curious about their data, and complaining loudly when they need help accessing their data.

If up until now you’ve quelled the masses using a hodgepodge of spreadsheets, hard-coded reports, and duct tape, allow me to confirm your sneaking suspicion that this system will collapse into a fiery heap at the slightest provocation. Your IT team has better things to do than create data silos and one-off reports for curious customers.

There’s a better way.

Business intelligence software is designed to make enterprise data more accessible to those who care about it most, and embedded business intelligence tools integrate with the host application so that users can do their data entry and analysis all in one place.

BI typically includes some combination of the following features:

-Canned reports: these are reports you build once so that your users can run them again and again
-Ad hoc reports: users build these from scratch per their own specifications
-Data Visualizations: charts, graphs, gauges, KPIs, maps, etc.
-Dashboards: lots of reports and visualizations all displayed at once
-Scheduling: a program that will run and/or email reports at specific times

The upfront investment of purchasing and deploying a BI solution will not only save you money in the long run but also improve customers’ product experience and give you a competitive edge, driving sales and generating new revenue.

Here’s how it works.

Number One: Get Back to Building Your Product

Your IT team has better things to do than fulfill customers’ reporting requests. Sooner or later, you will hit a critical mass of clients and be unable to keep up with the demand. Maybe you’re already there. Giving you users direct access to their data means spending less time fiddling with spreadsheets and more time expanding on your product’s core offering. The upfront cost of building out a report library and configuring ad hoc reporting features pays off in the long run. Your technologists will finally have time to do what you hired them to do, and your customers will no longer have to contend with an IT bottleneck to get the full benefit of your product.

Number Two: Become a Trusted Source of Truth

Spreadsheets are the flip phones of operational reporting: they’re unwieldy, they’re outdated, and you get strange looks when you whip one out during a board meeting. While spreadsheets might suffice in some situations, they don’t refresh dynamically as new data is generated, so different business users will have different data depending on which spreadsheet they’re referencing and when it was generated. Isolated sets of data like these, also known as data silos, can lead to conflicting reports and misinformation. If your competitors are still working with static reports, introducing embedded BI can give you a major customer experience advantage. Rather than rely on stale spreadsheets, your customers can run BI reports, which refresh with current data each time they’re executed. This dramatically reduces their time to insight, improving overall customer satisfaction, trust in your product, and confidence in the data housed within it.

Number Three: Go Above and Beyond with Data Integration

Joining across sources for a macro view of your data doesn’t have to be a nightmare. A good BI application will make the process easy and seamless — all you’d have to do is define how two datasets relate to each other. This could be something as simple as using email addresses as the link between newsletter signup data and sales conversion data. Gone will be the days of manual data entry and thankless intern drudgery! And when customers see they can use your product to report across relevant business applications, the buying decision becomes that much simpler.

Number Four: Empower Your Power Users

Users don’t want to nag you for reports any more than you want to spend time building them. If your power users are coming up against technological impediments every time they try to answer business questions for themselves, that frustration is bound to snowball. When a critical mass of product champions start clamoring for the same feature, there’s a good chance it’s time to give that feature serious consideration. Keeping those champions happy can have exponentially positive effects as they promote adoption and refer other organizations to your product. Tap into that resource to better understand your customers’ reporting use cases and pain points, then work to deliver the solution that will satisfy them best.

Number Five: Carve Your Niche

Not all embedded BI is created equal, so the “flavor” of BI you adopt can help shape your product identity and establish your niche. If some of your competitors are springing for BI as well, take a close look at what it can and cannot do. Maybe it offers dashboards but no operational reporting. Or maybe it doesn’t make it easy for users to build their own reports on the fly. Perhaps it’s not fully white-label and doesn’t feel like a native part of the application. Finding an embedded analytics application that aligns well with your product and its market can emphasize and even contribute to your core differentiators.

If this article has done its job, you’re probably wondering why your team doesn’t just build its own BI solution. If analytics can play such a crucial role in a SaaS product’s success, why not have a proprietary reporting suite perfectly suited to its use cases?

The answer is resources.

The road to an embedded solution is measured in months instead of years, and what you don’t build in-house you don’t have to support the same way you do your native software. Leaving the lion’s share of the work with a partner company means your team can focus on game-changing enhancements while reaping all the benefits of an analytics offering. As you can see, they are many.

Don’t forget you can subscribe for free to read the full SaaS Mag including interviews with Asana COO Chris Farinacci, Tomasz Tunguz, and more…

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