The Keys to Building Enterprise Ready SaaS Applications

Grant Miller by

The vast majority of conversation regarding enterprise software is focused on the efforts required to sell it, but there is very little conversation about the effort and art of building software for enterprise buyers. As a product focused company, we agree that great software is bought, not sold, and as a result, we decided to start an open source content project to share the technical requirements for building for the enterprise.

The research discussed in this article uncovers a core set of features that are essential for enterprise adoption. To date, most applications create their own custom implementation of these features and there is rarely a common experience or even consistent language used to describe them. For these reasons, our team at Replicated along with Segment, JasparSoft and several other contributors created EnterpriseReady.io to serve as the guide for SaaS companies to build the features that enterprises require. To do so, we leveraged our relationships with SaaS founders and CIOs and performed a deep study of the leading SaaS products.

EnterpriseReady goes far beyond the standard enterprise security checklist and illustrates how to meet and exceed the expectations of enterprise buyers. It is important to note that simply implementing these features will not instantly create a swell of demand for SaaS applications, but rather provides a clear understanding of the enterprise requirements that will streamline conversations with large potential customers and allow you to price for long term enterprise value.

Why enterprise features?

Before we dive into the actual features, it is important to take a step back and ask why enterprises require different features from small and medium sized companies in the first place. The answer? Risk and scale. By definition enterprise companies have many employees (scale) and significant existing business to protect (risk).

The next logical question we must answer then is why SaaS companies should bend to these often onerous requirements. And that comes down to revenue. Enterprises will pay more for features that allow them to decrease risk and operate at scale. In addition, most of these features are too advanced for small businesses to want or need. As a result, applications are better off maintaining a simplified experience for small businesses and only exposing these features to enterprise customers.

Discovering the common enterprise features

With several years of enterprise software experience and some of the fastest growing SaaS applications as customers, our team at Replicated relied on our expertise to help formulate the initial thesis about what features most enterprises required. Since the Replicated platform currently enables over 40 SaaS companies to deploy and manage on-prem, private instances of their applications to over 500 different enterprise customers, covering deployment options was a given.

Enterprise Deployment Options

Most modern SaaS applications start as multi-tenant, cloud native applications that are built and deployed to servers controlled by the application vendor (generally hosted by an IaaS provider). When these applications start moving up market either through an enterprise sales team or simply by being pulled up market by larger customers, they start to see demands for alternative deployment options. Fortunately, modern development practices have created a generation of applications that are fully automated and increasingly immutable from a deployment perspective. As a result, many applications can easily spin up a new environment (ie staging, dev, QA, etc.,) and manage it with the same automated and reproducible processes that are used for their production instance. This means that most modern SaaS applications are actually “ultra-portable” and can easily make the transition to offering deployment options that meet their end customers’ needs and reduce the friction of a third-party managing a private instance of that application.

Security Requirements

The next most common and obvious features would be requirements that enterprises often communicate in their 3rd party vendor security checklists (like the one produced by the Vendor Security Alliance). From these sources, it is generally apparent that features like overall product security are a critical enterprise feature. Additionally, features such as Single-Sign On (SSO) and Role Based Access Control (RBAC) also jump out as standard requirements. Digging deeper, many large enterprises follow best practices for security published by industry groups such as NIST and ISO. ISO-27002 is a dense document that spells out the implementation requirements for enterprise IT teams and is often the underlying guide for their requests. This guide provides detailed expectations for implementing both audit logs and change management procedures.

Business Requirements

To validate the importance of these features as well as uncover new features, the team took a look at the pricing plans of 50 leading SaaS applications. This research instantly surfaced the concept and importance of product assortment or good/better/best packages. Ultimately, the most successful SaaS applications differentiate their pricing plans by including features that appeal to different buyer segments. This enables application developers to capture more value from enterprise buyers who are generally generating more value by using the application for their business. Based on this study, it was also clear that advanced reporting, deep integrations, support/SLA were each important and common differentiating features for enterprise versions.

Since the launch of EnterpriseReady late last year, we’ve seen a tremendous response from SaaS founders, product managers and enterprise IT organizations. As a living document, we encourage the community to open issues and to check out our guide for contributing to the project.