5 Characteristics of a SaaS-Focused Embedded BI Application

There are hundreds of business intelligence (BI) solutions on the market, but not all of them are well suited to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) environment. Some are intended as standalone products, others designed for on-premises (“on-prem”) deployment, and still others built for use by individual consumers rather than whole businesses. As a SaaS provider, wading through these options is a matter of knowing what key characteristics to look for and why.


Below are five features of a BI solution truly built for SaaS. Note that only some of these features pertain to the software itself; the application’s licensing terms can be equally important. Remember to do a thorough and well-rounded evaluation of any application that makes it past the demo phase so that you can vet both its technological and its economic viability.

#1: 100% Web-Based

This one might seem like a no-brainer since SaaS applications are by their nature web-based, but it’s worth clarifying exactly what this means. A 100% web-based BI application, in this case, is one that end users may access, in its entirety, with only an internet connection and a web browser. Where the application is served from remains up to the SaaS provider: some prefer to use proprietary servers while others avail themselves of AWS or another cloud computing platform. What matters is that SaaS customers may access both the host application and its analytics suite through the web, without having to download or install any additional software. An embedded BI application must be able to do this in order to deliver on SaaS’s core value proposition: the convenience of the web.

#2: Exceptional Support

The SaaS business model arose as an alternative to the traditional on-premise software delivery model wherein companies purchase a perpetual license to the software in question, host it on premises, and pay additional fees to the provider for ongoing service and maintenance. SaaS providers, by contrast, bundle support and hosting into their subscription plans.

The fact that SaaS providers assume the burden of technical support and operate on a subscription model makes them highly vulnerable to churn as a result of poor customer experience (CX). Studies show that customers value immediacy and consistency when they contact companies for assistance, and a SaaS provider must be able to deliver both for its entire product—not just the proprietary parts. Any third-party software, be it an embedded analytics solution or something else, must be able to offer the SaaS vendor exceptional product support so that it may pass on that value to the consumer.

It can sometimes be challenging to gauge the quality of a software provider’s support before committing to the product, but there are certainly some hallmarks of CX excellence to keep an eye out for:

  • Rave reviews from existing clients that specifically mention support and/or customer service.
  • Clear and respectful communication from sales personnel.
  • Detailed and thorough technical documentation.
  • High-quality technical support during the product evaluation phase.
  • A Customer Success team.

A BI solution cannot be the asset it is meant to be if customers are stuck troubleshooting and the SaaS provider cannot get them the answer they need.

#3: Scale-Friendly Pricing and Modularity

SaaS companies scale by acquiring new customers and upselling them to more robust plans as their business needs evolve; an embedded BI solution should accommodate both of these growth patterns.

Look for a BI solution whose price tag isn’t tethered to the SaaS client’s ARR, user traffic, or any other scale-dependent variable. Flat-rate pricing allows companies to dedicate a smaller and smaller percentage of their revenue to the BI license as they grow, dramatically increasing the return on their investment in embedded analytics.

Additionally, the product itself should be modular to accommodate a tiered subscription model. If the BI application can be partitioned, the SaaS vendor can reserve more advanced features for those customers in higher-paying plans, using the solution as an upgrade incentive. Converse College, for example, upgraded its subscription to DonorPerfect in order to gain access to an ad hoc reporting suite that would revolutionize its endowment program. Which brings us to the next point…

#4: Easy Ad Hoc Reporting

An estimated 60% of knowledge workers with access to BI will never create their own reports, preferring instead to run reports created for them, but the handful of workers who do craft reports for the rest of their organizations tend to have a profound impact on operations. One such analyst saved his company tens of thousands of dollars simply by writing reports designed to expose holes in his company’s billing practices.

But to deliver these kinds of benefits to customer companies, a BI solution’s ad hoc reporting features need to be easy to use. A user should not need database experience or even know what a data model is in order to make effective use of the application. What qualifies as “easy to use” will depend somewhat on the SaaS user base, naturally, so consider what users will think of the UI as you evaluate BI candidates.

#5: Highly Customizable

Last but certainly not least, a SaaS-focused BI solution should look, feel, and behave like the host application as much as possible to achieve that seamless customer experience. Modularity, discussed earlier, plays a major role in this, as being able to segment and partition the application goes a long way toward making features available to customers when and where they make the most contextual sense. Instead of making salespeople go to a reporting portal every time they want to know how much a customer has purchased, make that data available right in the customer’s profile by embedding the report where it’s most useful.

UI styling is another important aspect of customization, so SaaS providers should look for BI solutions with fully customizable CSS and complete control over the application’s copy. This extends, as well, to languages and localization: customers should be able to author reports in one language and have international colleagues read those same reports in an entirely different language. The SaaS model demands this kind of flexibility.

In 2016, it was estimated that “64 percent of small and medium businesses [relied] on cloud-based technology,” and that number has only grown since. Businesses and consumers are attracted to the convenience and reliability of the SaaS model, so embedded technologies need to follow suit. Be sure to check these five boxes as you peruse the BI market for the best in SaaS-friendly analytics.

Author Bio: Mike Brody is the co-founder and CEO of Exago Inc., a web-based solution for software companies looking to provide ad hoc reporting, dashboards, and analytics to their internal and external customers. Since the company’s inception in 2006, Mike has led Exago to its position as a self-funded and profitable player in the business intelligence software market. Follow Mike and Exago Inc. on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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