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Build Data-Driven SaaS Apps Fast & Efficiently with a Modern Data Backbone

By Benjamin Haynes on June 10, 2022

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is now commonplace in the enterprise – 99% of companies use at least one SaaS app, and organizations with more than 1,000 employees use more than 150. According to Gartner, the global SaaS industry is worth about $172 billion, and its annual growth rate is projected to surpass 17% in 2022.

What is SaaS? Essentially, it’s software on-demand. Applications are delivered as a service over the internet, and the SaaS provider hosts the application on their own servers, databases, networking and computing resources or with a cloud provider, eliminating the need for companies to purchase, install and maintain infrastructure themselves. The SaaS provider assumes responsibility for updates, patches, security and performance optimization, guaranteeing SLAs for high availability.

SaaS delivers myriad benefits to organizations, including accessibility, cost savings, security and scalability. Companies that go the SaaS route can get up and running quickly with new applications, rather than waiting on lengthy installations across physical hardware. Given these benefits, it’s no wonder nearly every company is switching over to SaaS from on-premises deployments – even for the most business-critical applications.

However, from a development perspective, there are many challenges involved with developing SaaS offerings that are ready for prime time. Not only must the interface be clean, engaging and user-friendly, but because SaaS is are data-driven, ensuring secure, seamless and performant connectivity to relevant data sources and content is critical for meeting service availability and performance requirements.

Developing a SaaS comes with challenges

Let’s look at some of the biggest challenges of SaaS development:

  • Setting up the backend: First, you need a robust physical infrastructure, including the database, file storage, serverless autoscaling, and a global content delivery network. You also need to set up authentication, access control, API connectivity, integration hooks and alerting, among other functionality. In other words, setting up the backend is time-consuming and expensive, requiring extensive technical expertise from backend engineers that are in high demand.
  • Lead time: The complexity of SaaS means that it can take six months or more to develop and deploy your offering. If integrations are necessary, development time can take even longer, making it difficult for companies to get to market quickly with innovative apps before their competitors.
  • Data protection: SaaS applications are typically multi-tenant, so the data security framework must be rock-solid. It must meet user expectations as well as comply with various regulations such as GDPR, Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and others.
  • Third-party integrations: SaaS apps often feature embedded functionality provided by third-party offerings that must be integrated via APIs. For example, most apps have payment systems for managing subscriptions. Integrations can be complex and highly technical, requiring in-house expertise.
  • Uncharted territory: When you create a new SaaS, you need to A/B test new features and options to find the perfect product-market fit, and be ready to quickly adapt or pivot strategies. Having a highly flexible and agile data solution is so important, because it allows you to build at the speed of innovation.

With all of these challenges, you may begin to wonder if developing a new SaaS is even possible, especially without a large engineering team.

A better way to create your SaaS

Every SaaS essentially has the same components: data and asset storage, connectivity via API endpoints with auth and access control, and a (hopefully) attractive and intuitive frontend interface. Creating these ubiquitous SaaS components from scratch is tedious and costly. Add the UI design element and a need to create custom UIs for different types of users, and you’ve got an overwhelming task.

Instead of starting from ground zero every time, what if you could get your SaaS app up and running using a framework with configurable tools, then connect it to a powerful data backbone supported by scalable and reliable infrastructure and a global CDN – in minutes? Rather than employing highly technical specialists to do the heavy-lifting on the backend, you could focus on building a clean and engaging frontend and customizing the UI to work for various users to meet the needs of your target customer. That’s what you get with Directus.

Directus provides a feature-rich backend-as-a-service Data Engine, wrapped with a no-code Data Studio for intuitively accessing, managing and visualizing all your SaaS data and assets. The platform delivers two out of the three core components listed above, so you can skip the heavy boilerplate work and immediately start building the custom frontend that differentiates your service. Best of all, its unopinionated approach means all of the following capabilities can be fully customized and extended, so you can build a tailored backend for your SaaS without hitting a ceiling:

  • Abstraction that enables you to choose your own database vendor, auth provider, and data connectivity – REST API, GraphQL, SDK, CLI or SQL.
  • A completely unopinionated approach that supports any new or existing relational architecture (zero migration), with full support for all data types – raw, geospatial, temporal, editorial, business, media and more.
  • A truly global solution with support for delivering SaaS data and content in multiple languages to meet the needs of end users, as well as a multilingual Data Studio in 55+ languages to support your international team.
  • A clean white-label, no-code app for authoring, managing and visualizing your service data.
  • A flexible API builder that enables you to easily define your data model, and then add hooks for service logic, automated dataflows, data transformations, alerting and other processes.
  • Full extensibility across the API Engine and Data Studio app, and purpose-built vendor integrations.
  • Simplified digital asset management and transformation for content, media and other files used by your SaaS.
  • An admin portal and intuitive custom dashboards that provide realtime metrics and insights that you can use to refine and improve your SaaS.

With Directus, building and deploying innovative SaaS offerings is fast, easy and fun. Create a Directus Cloud account today to give it a try. To learn more about all the use cases Directus supports, read our blog post, “What Is an Open Data Platform?”

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