business intelligence

What is SaaS business intelligence (BI) and how does it work?

As companies drown in an ever growing sea of data, business intelligence technology is the life raft for any organization looking not only to survive this deluge, but turn it into competitive advantage. With the rise of cloud computing, the modern data stack, and Software as a Service (SaaS) technologies, it’s no longer enough to just rely on traditional analytics and reporting tools that give predefined, static views of your business. Instead, companies leading their peers are doing so by tapping into more advanced insights into their customers, operations, and the market at large. 

Enter SaaS Business Intelligence (BI), the powerful tool that allows you to make better decisions faster by analyzing, visualizing, and using business data. But what exactly is SaaS BI? How do you know which tool to use for your organization? And what steps should you follow to successfully implement SaaS BI? Read on to learn more.

What is SaaS Business Intelligence?

SaaS Business Intelligence refers to the use of cloud-based software solutions to perform data analysis, generate reports, charts, and visualizations, and gain actionable insights. Unlike traditional on-premise BI systems, SaaS BI allows businesses to access and utilize robust analytics capabilities through web-based applications, without the need for extensive hardware investments or complex software installations. The best SaaS BI tools were built to handle cloud volumes at scale, meaning they don’t suffer performance issues even as data volumes exponentially grow. Ideally, this means they also natively connect and query data directly in your cloud data platform, so insights are always as up to date as the underlying data. This accessibility, flexibility, and ease of use make SaaS BI an attractive option for organizations of all sizes, enabling them to make data-driven decisions and derive value from their data without the burden of managing infrastructure. While every organization can benefit from SaaS BI, it’s essential for organizations that have already invested in a cloud data platform if they want to maximize the return on these investments. 

Benefits of SaaS Business Intelligence

Enhanced data analysis and reporting

SaaS BI platforms provide advanced tools for data analysis, enabling organizations to uncover meaningful insights and trends. With real-time insights, interactive data visualizations, and business monitoring, businesses can track key metrics like retail KPIs or data KPIs, measure performance, and identify opportunities or potential issues while there is still time to address them. Customizable BI reporting and visualizations empower users to tailor the presentation of data to their specific needs, facilitating clearer communication and understanding of complex information. 

Improved decision making and strategic planning

Accurate and actionable insights are crucial for effective decision making. SaaS BI equips decision-makers with timely and relevant information, enabling them to make informed choices and respond quickly to market changes. With faster access to data, organizations can streamline decision-making processes and reduce reliance on gut instincts. Additionally, because these tools are often paired with a cloud data warehouse, SaaS BI tools provide a holistic view of the business landscape to better understand customers, partners, and the market as they evolve instead of after the fact. 

Increased efficiency and productivity

Automation is a key aspect of SaaS BI that drives efficiency gains. By integrating with other best of breed tools, SaaS BI tools can take advantage of automation across the data stack,  manual and time-consuming tasks related to data prep. This allows business users to focus on higher-value activities, such as interpreting insights and driving innovation, while data teams can tackle building robust data pipelines, improving data reliability, or identifying ways to control costs. Moreover, SaaS BI promotes collaboration and data sharing, fostering a culture of transparency and knowledge exchange within the organization. Teams can work together on projects, leverage shared insights, and make collaborative decisions based on a unified understanding of the data - either within the SaaS BI tool itself, or in other productivity tools like Slack and Teams.

Access cutting edge innovation

In the world of business intelligence, new capabilities like generative AI, powered by advances in transformer architecture, continue to rapidly come online and offer meaningful competitive advantage. With SaaS BI, customers get access to these new innovations as soon as they are available in the product, while their on premises counterparts are stuck waiting for the next upgrade cycle, complete with lengthy deployment timelines.  

Revenue growth

At the end of the day, business intelligence tools are aimed at helping companies grow through better decisions based on data. SaaS BI is no different. Companies leading in adopting these new platforms, and using them to empower new kinds of decision makers, however, are seeing a real difference. With the right self-service BI capabilities, organizations are growing revenue 10-30% faster than their peers. 

Key features to look for in a SaaS BI tool

1. Seamless integration with multiple data sources

Data integration is crucial for effective analysis. SaaS BI tools offer seamless integration with various data sources, such as databases, cloud storage, and APIs. With consolidated data from multiple sources in a centralized platform, SaaS BI tools facilitate analyzing and reporting on this data to drive outcomes across an organization.

2. Advanced AI-driven search analytics and insights

AI analytics capabilities are transforming the way businesses extract insights from their data. SaaS BI tools leverage artificial intelligence to enable advanced search analytics and visualizations. The best of these do so through natural language processing, meaning users can interact with the data in the same way they chat with a colleague or friend. This empowers everyone, not just data professionals, to uncover hidden patterns, trends, and correlations within their data, leading to actionable insights and informed decision-making.

3. Robust data modeling

Analytics are only as good as the data model they are built on. Regardless of the type of data model you want to use, whether you’re leveraging a snowflake or star schema, or want to use data modeling tools like dbt or LookML, the most effective SaaS BI solutions enable you to leverage the tools, techniques, and paradigms of your choice, without locking all that work inside the BI tool itself. In doing so, they enable data teams to deliver reliable, scalable analytics with confidence.

3. Instant access to real-time data

In today's fast-paced business environment, real-time data access is critical. The most valuable SaaS BI tools provide this instant access to real-time data, by connecting and querying data directly in an underlying data platform. This ensures decision makers have the most up-to-date information at their fingertips, enabling businesses to respond quickly to market changes, identify emerging trends, and seize opportunities.

4. Self service reporting and visualization

Modern SaaS BI tools empower users of all technical skill levels with self-service reporting and visualization capabilities. Users, from technically savvy users like analytics or data engineers to domain experts and frontline business users, can easily perform ad hoc queries, find insights, and create and share custom reports without relying on technical expertise or IT support. This self-service approach enhances productivity, as businesses leverage data directly, freeing up technical teams to prioritize other, more strategic business analytics initiatives. 

5. Collaborative data exploration and sharing

Rarely do decisions made in silos lead to the best outcomes. That’s why collaboration is key, including when it comes to business intelligence SaaS BI tools offer collaborative analytics and sharing features, enabling teams to work together on data exploration, analysis, and decision-making. Users can share insights, charts and graphs, and even entire Liveboards with team members. From there, users can collaborate directly in the SaaS BI tool or in other collaboration tools like Slack or Teams. 

6. Easily embedded

Many companies using SaaS BI leverage other SaaS tools internally, including solutions built in house, or deliver their own SaaS offering. While SaaS BI can certainly help optimize how organizations leverage these tools, it can go a step further when it's part of an embedded analytics strategy. Organizations like Harri, Just Eat, and Loan Market Group have embedded SaaS BI with ThoughtSpot Embedded directly into their offerings, bringing an intuitive yet cutting edge analytics experience right to their users. In doing so, they’re delighting and retaining customers, improving product quality, and creating stickier revenue. 

7. Elastic scalability and robust security measures

As businesses grow, their data requirements also expand. The right SaaS BI tools provide elastic scalability, allowing organizations to handle large volumes of data and accommodate increasing user demands without exploding their budget. Additionally, these tools prioritize data security with robust measures such as encryption, access controls, and compliance features. This ensures that sensitive data remains protected and in compliance with industry regulations.

5 Steps to follow when implementing SaaS BI

Step 1: Define your business objectives and goals

Before implementing SaaS BI, clearly define your business objectives and goals. Identify the key metrics and SaaS Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that align with your strategic goals. Determine the specific reporting and analytics requirements that will enable you to monitor and measure your progress towards those objectives.

Step 2: Assess your data sources and infrastructure

Next, assess your data sources and infrastructure. Identify the relevant data sources that will provide the necessary insights for your BI initiatives. Evaluate the quality and consistency of your data to ensure accuracy and reliability. Address any data quality issues or gaps before proceeding with the implementation.

Step 3: Choose the right SaaS BI solution

Selecting the right SaaS BI solution is crucial for success. Conduct thorough research and evaluate the available options in the market. Consider factors such as scalability to support your future growth, integration capabilities with your existing systems, and the security and compliance features offered by the solution.

Step 4: Plan and execute the implementation

Plan and execute the implementation of the chosen SaaS BI solution. Develop a detailed implementation roadmap that outlines the necessary steps and timelines. Define clear roles and responsibilities within your team to ensure smooth execution. Configure and customize the SaaS BI solution to align with your specific business requirements and workflows

Step 5: Train your team and continuously improve

Finally, train your team on using the SaaS BI solution effectively. Provide comprehensive training sessions to ensure everyone understands how to leverage the features and functionalities of the solution. Encourage adoption and regular usage among your team members. Monitor and analyze the performance of your SaaS BI implementation, identifying areas for improvement and making necessary adjustments to optimize its effectiveness.

Enable more data-driven decision making in your organization

SaaS Business Intelligence is providing businesses with the opportunity to save time and money while harnessing powerful analytics that enable data-driven decision making — it’s no wonder why organizations are increasingly turning to SaaS BI technology. Not all SaaS BI tools are made the same however. If you want a solution that can scale with your business, maximize the ROI of your other cloud investments, while empowering every kind of use to analyze data, regardless of their technical skills,  be sure to check out ThoughtSpot – their intuitive search dialogue and auto-loaded results make it simple to take immediate action on the insights you identify. Now that you know how SaaS BI can help transform and grow your business, don’t hesitate - sign-up for a free trial with ThoughtSpot today. With their industry leading suite of analytics applications, you will experience first hand the data dashboards, interactive visuals and predictive analytics capabilities available from ThoughtSpot’s innovative solution.