Let’s get right to it.
SaaS business intelligence platforms are hosted by the service provider—meaning you don’t need to install them on your local computer or servers. Most of them follow a subscription-based model, which is a good option for businesses that don’t want to be tied to a service. They’re fast, cost-effective, and can be up and running in a matter of days.
SaaS is just one of three options when it comes to business intelligence. There’s also:
Most of the time, a SaaS system is a better option than either of those two. Here’s why.
There’s a spectrum of business intelligence technology.
At the higher end, you have enterprise-level, self-hosted systems (like Looker or Salesforce Einstein Analytics). These take an extensive amount of custom development before they’re up and running, and they’ll depend on additional systems (a data warehouse, for example) to fully function.
In the middle, you have end-to-end SaaS systems (like Tableau or *cough cough* Grow). These combine the capabilities of larger systems (data analysis, storage, advanced visualizations) into one platform. You can manage a sophisticated business intelligence strategy, all from a single system.
At the bottom, you have SaaS dashboarding tools (like Klipfolio or Databox). These don’t give you much control over the data analysis side of business intelligence, but they let you connect your systems and build dashboards.
Let’s dispell a myth: SaaS platforms are more than just simple dashboarding tools.
They can handle complex data analysis (ETL functions), work with enterprise-level reporting systems, and leverage AI (Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing) to help users find insights (you can check out this webinar from Tableau to learn more about AI in business intelligence).
This is all to say that SaaS isn’t just for small businesses or private individuals.
With a SaaS system, nothing is stored on your local machine. You don’t have to spend time installing it on your computer or on your own servers. All you have to do is log in to your service’s online portal.
All customization of your business intelligence platform is done through the user interface—not in a coding environment. Connecting your reporting systems, building your metrics, and creating dashboard layouts, are all done through your business intelligence interface.
Generally, you can have a SaaS business intelligence system up and running anywhere from 1 day to 6 weeks.
Adding new users to a self-hosted platform requires ensuring they have a computer that can handle the system, installing the system on their local computer, and adding them as a new user to the system.
Because you access your SaaS business intelligence system through an online portal, you manage user accounts in there, too. Some business intelligence systems give you unlimited user accounts (Klipfolio and Grow) but most others will charge per user.
If you host your BI solution on-premises, security falls squarely on you. If you’re hosted by a cloud service, you can depend on your service for some security.
A SaaS platform is protected constantly by a dedicated security team (not you). They update the system if they discover any vulnerabilities, and they’re constantly optimizing for better performance.
Here’s a list of end-to-end business intelligence platforms:
Here’s a list of dashboarding business intelligence platforms:
Depending on the service provider, SaaS business intelligence platforms can be limited when it comes to handling larger business intelligence strategies.
Most of the time, self-hosted business intelligence systems are just a single layer in a tech-stack that includes a separate data warehouse and ETL layer. The benefit of a self-hosted system is if these two other systems are custom-built or are also self-hosted, they can communicate large quantities of data easier.
For an enterprise-level company that’s been collecting data for years, has multiple custom-built reporting systems, and a lot of resources at their disposal, a SaaS platform won’t be enough. At that point, you should have a self-hosted system.
SaaS technology isn’t going anywhere. In fact, HubSpot reports that the SaaS industry is anticipated to grow to $76 billion per year. When SaaS initially came onto the scene, there was some criticism of its capabilities and its limitation of custom strategies. But now that SaaS has had more time to develop, it’s flexible enough to accommodate custom use-cases without requiring users to modify the source code themselves.
A SaaS BI platform is simple to use for the non-technical business user and data analyst. It doesn’t require an IT team to manage for you. You have the power to directly manage everything in it yourself.
For a larger business that has a more custom tech stack and the resources to develop a self-hosted strategy, a self-hosted BI system will better connect with your systems and scale with your business in the long run.
Want to see how a self-hosted BI system (Looker) stacks up against a SaaS BI platform (Grow)? Check out our business intelligence comparison pages. Have any questions about the blog post? Ask us in the chatbox to the right!