Your mission should be to unify data from all your SaaS solutions to reveal mind-boggling insights.
Your data now resides in the cloud, and you’ve chosen SaaS providers that use their own products (or drink their own champagne, as I like to say). Does that mean you’re getting the full value from your data? No.
Chances are high your data is still siloed. This time, the culprits are your SaaS providers who collect and store your data, thus limiting the analytics you can perform on it.
To be truly data-driven, organizations must be able to unify, integrate, and analyze all data—including data from SaaS providers—from within a single data platform.
Why SaaS-generated data is siloed
SaaS applications are designed for business process automation and to enhance workflows that drive productivity. Often, these apps produce transactional data that’s attached to a specific workflow.
With the speed at which business moves today, SaaS apps are the perfect way for organizations to avoid building everything in-house and instead benefit from another company’s expertise and investment. SaaS applications address specific pain points and solve headaches, with the promise of continued automation and further evolution.
However, it’s important to recognize what SaaS applications are usually not designed to do.
- Break down the data silos created by each application used in an organization;
- Bring data together from different sources to measure and drive outcomes; and
- Solve for data ingestion, transformation, modeling, and visualization.
No matter what SaaS application you use or how recently it was created, the main focus of that app is to automate a process, which generates specific (and siloed) data for that process. While that’s exactly what you want and expect from a SaaS provider, two problems arise with regard to data analysis.
- Individual SaaS applications provide a limited vertical view when organizations need horizontal. No single SaaS application solves all the challenges that face a single department, let alone an entire organization. That’s why it’s not unusual for a marketing department to use 10, 20, or even 30 different SaaS applications. While each app brings value for its piece of the automation puzzle, any analytics provided as part of the SaaS offering represent a vertical view of the data and confine analysis to the narrow scope of that single app. In essence, siloed data leads to siloed analytics.
Worse yet, the data your employees create on SaaS applications is often controlled by the SaaS vendors. Unless a seamless way is provided for you to ingest this data into your central data platform and to own that data, you end up in a data hostage situation. Data ingestion and centralization of all data, including from SaaS providers, should be part of your software asset management, enabling you to switch vendors without worrying about the cost of data extraction later.
Once you have access to your data from all SaaS providers, it’s time to go horizontal. The hallmark of a data-driven team is one that extracts value from unified data across all apps. Your teams must have the ability to easily unify and analyze data from multiple SaaS apps in order to reveal insights and make data-driven decisions about your business now and for the future, on a scale previously unimaginable.
- Enriched value is delivered by correlating SaaS application data with other data. In the same way data across multiple apps needs to be merged, so should SaaS app data be combined with an organization’s first-, second-, and third-party data in a cloud data platform.
Consider corporate sales account enrichment. Sales teams often have numerous prospects to contact and a long list of customers to upsell. However, few sales leaders want team members to randomly call these prospects or customers. A targeted approach will maximize effort by contacting the strongest account opportunities first.
Now imagine that CRM data, which sits with a SaaS provider, can be augmented with technographic and firmographic information from multiple industry data sources, enabling industry classification and propensity scoring for every account lead. This score is fed automatically into your CRM every day. By looking at this data-driven score, salespeople know immediately which accounts to contact and in which order.
Of course, CRM SaaS applications usually can’t do that. They’re designed to help book a deal and serve a customer. But real value is uncovered when a multitude of differing data sets within an organization’s data are integrated, analyzed, and seamlessly shared in conjunction with CRM data to correlate information and deliver what salespeople actually need.
How can you unify your data and achieve a horizontal view? With any individual SaaS application, no matter how powerful, you’ll never get there. Only a data platform can solve these challenges.
What to look for in a cloud data platform provider
No matter how many SaaS applications and host systems you use across your business functions, unifying your data in a single data platform so you can easily manage, transform, model, and analyze it is key.
A cloud data platform enables you to break down silos and enhance resilience; it means you are no longer dependent on application availability but rather on data availability and speed. With a data platform, you bring the application to the data, not the data to the application.
Here are five factors to consider when evaluating cloud data platform providers.
- Never settle for less than cloud-built. From an architectural perspective, you want a data platform that was born in the cloud, with an ecosystem that never required migration from non-cloud technology. Your cloud data platform provider should be one of the most modern enterprise companies in the marketplace.
- Look for customer zero. Similar to my advice for selecting SaaS providers, you want a data platform provider that drinks its own champagne, i.e. uses its own product. Data should be operationalized across all functions—marketing, sales, finance, legal, IT, security, you name it—which makes the provider its own customer zero.
- Connectors to SaaS providers. A data platform provider should have partnerships with major SaaS providers and have built connectors between the data platform and SaaS platforms. You want a data platform that plugs into SaaS applications so you benefit from a single seamless data experience for all your SaaS-generated data.
- Supports reverse ETL. Piggybacking on the last point, data should go both ways. “Reverse ETL” is new lingo for the process where you take data from the data platform and put it back into the SaaS app, vis-a-vis the CRM example with account scoring. This trend requires partnerships and connectors so that it’s seamless to push and pull data between the two entities.
- Delivers a modern data marketplace. Ideally, the data platform also provides a data marketplace where you can easily ingest external data from open and commercial data sets to complement your SaaS application data. Using the CRM example again, a data marketplace can be used to access data from sources such as ZoomInfo and Crunchbase in order to classify sales accounts, identify industries, and pinpoint factors such as cloud spend. When this third-party data is integrated with SaaS app data, it enriches the overall understanding of an account and its attractiveness from a sales perspective.
The beauty of selecting a cloud data platform that connects to SaaS providers is that this modern architecture provides everything you need to ensure ease of use, security, and governance of data. Data from SaaS providers becomes highly available and highly reliable without requiring effort from your team. More importantly, you want the near-unlimited power and concurrency available from the cloud, which a modern cloud-built platform can deliver.
By leveraging a cloud data platform to reconcile data from across business workflows and applications, you build a coherent, holistic view of your business through data, thus enabling a global data-driven strategy.
Eliminate silos once and for all
Organizations today rely on SaaS applications to run their businesses, which is why data from the SaaS solutions you use must be wholly integrated with business intelligence and your predictive and prescriptive analytics. For both young and established organizations alike, your choice of cloud data platform is important. But you also want to select SaaS providers that act like partners and will deliver your data to your modern cloud data platform of choice.
These strategies are the best way to future-proof your investments, scale your business, and ensure you can easily solve complex problems with advanced technologies. Only a data platform that unifies your data will be able to handle your increasing analytic needs, and power the insights needed for business growth in the years ahead—all without a silo in sight.
In Sunny’s related posts, he discusses why COVID makes a CIO’s tech strategy THE strategy. He then provides insight on how to best choose technology partners and the benefits of choosing SaaS providers that “drink their own champagne”.