Why every SaaS vendor should think about data from the beginning

Ken Miller
Your product team are busy defining personas, workflows and building wireframes. Your development team are starting to build out their stack, architecture and begin prototyping and I know you’re busy and are probably reading this whilst grabbing a coffee for 5 minutes. Things are moving at a million miles an hour, but you have things under control, so why should you be thinking about data?

You may not have much today, but if you’re successful (and I hope you are) then believe me, you will have lots of the stuff. Let me outline why I passionately believe that CEOs & CTOs of SaaS vendors should be thinking about data from the outset.

You will be surprised (and incredibly pleased!) at how rapidly your user numbers can grow

From experience you will be surprised at the speed that user numbers grow on your platform, and with each new user comes more and more data. Sure, we all hope for “covid style” exponential growth but are you ready for what comes with that?

More users = more data = more demand for access to the data. So, as your user base continues to grow, so does the demand from your customers to access timely information in the form of visual storyboards, interactive reports, and analytics. This will start to put pressure on your Product Management and Development teams and will ultimately increase your backlog. So be aware that this tsunami of requests will be coming, and you need to ensure your platform and teams are ready for them.

So, what is the best way to be ready for this tidal wave? Well, in my opinion the best way is to ensure you are thinking about data from the beginning.

Data is the new oil

There has been lots of discussion and debate about “Is data the new oil” since the phrase was first coined by Clive Humby in 2006. Whichever side of the debate you fall on there is no underestimating the value that data can bring to your business and your customers.

In fact, I will go further and say that it can give you both a distinct competitive advantage. You may have the best cloud application on the planet but if you do not give your customers access to rich data insights at the right time then they will do one of two things. Firstly, they will try different ways to garner the data from your application and place into their own databases. This is laborious, time consuming and most importantly a huge distraction away from their core business and application. We really need to be able to service their data requirements from day one of onboarding them. Secondly, and this is even more of a worry, they will start to look at other vendors who have embedded analytics at the heart of their application and become a flight risk, or worse they could even churn away.

Data presented to users at the right time and with the right focus can be so powerful. By avoiding that “swivel chair” moment when they need to jump between applications, you are enabling them to get instant context of the data.

If you start early – you will learn quickly

I think one of the key benefits from starting early on your data journey is that you will learn (a lot!) very quickly. Your Dev and DevOps teams will learn how best to architect your data stack to support analytic queries, whether that is real time against your application or via a dedicated data lake or warehouse. Your Product Management team will begin to see (and hopefully hear) how the analytics are helping your customers, which ones are working, which need refining and hopefully they will also start to garner more feedback about other potential customer requirements. And your Customer Success team will start to see their customer success metrics trend in the right direction.

Remember, you do not need to deliver everything from day one. You could start with a well-placed visual storyboard (posh name for a dashboard!) that is focused on the user’s role and secured to their data permissions. Even a well-placed “Big Number” or “Trend Chart” embedded in the right workflow can give your users huge value.

So, start early in your data thinking, include it in your persona mapping and user journeys. What data does each Persona need, why is it important to them and most importantly at what time is it important to them. By understanding this you can ensure your team design the best data architecture to support your customer and you can really start to embed insightful analytics right into the heart of your application.

About Ken Miller

Ken is CTO, co-founder and self-proclaimed data geek at Panintelligence, an embedded analytics company focused on enabling SaaS vendors to deliver visual storyboards (posh dashboards to Ken), interactive reports, and predicative analytics into the heart of their application workflows.

"More users = more data = more demand for access to the data.
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