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SQL Data Highlights the Most Popular SaaS Products Used by Real Businesses

What are the most popular SaaS apps used by businesses? Nathaniel Armer studies user activity data collected by ActivTrak to better understand customers.


By ActivTrak

4 people working at a large table, each at their own computer, with employee monitoring software. One man is looking on.
Hello, I'm Nathaniel Armer, the Senior Backend Developer at ActivTrak. My educational and professional backgrounds lie in data and numbers. I've used my knowledge of the whole gamut of tech to build computers,  run my own software company, mentoring other developers, and now in the SaaS world, to help with the development of the parts of ActivTrak you don't see on a day-to-day basis. Nathaniel Armer discusses ActivTrak backend progress with Heath Hughes. Something I've done pretty regularly since joining the ActivTrak team is performing large queries using enormous amounts of data. Knowing that ActivTrak provides a way to gather a log of all the programs that are used on any given number of computers, I started wondering if there were any data-driven stories I could tell using this information. I landed on this idea to try to better understand our customers by finding out which SaaS products are the most popular amongst them, and then display my findings in the form of a Top 25 Apps list. did their own analysis of SaaS products based on surveys along with spending and usage data. Their results are enlightening and I think it's a great article, but without the hard data coming directly from the source, it's hard to know exactly what's really going on in the business world.

Clean, Unbiased Data

We've got accurate data directly from the users, which is more reliable than survey or spending numbers. And when you start looking at the numbers we have access to, the list of the "Top 25" changes dramatically based on how you measure usage. Instead of picking one measurement to come up with a list, I decided to compile three lists, each using different metrics: longest duration used, the number of accounts that use the app, and the number of times each app is accessed. We, like any ActivTrak account with the SQL Data Access add-on, can analyze logs of all activity.  So, I began examining all accounts, trying to find out various statistics about app and website usage on the account level. Just for context, one account may have several hundred computers providing data to it. At ActivTrak, we have one account that includes about 20 or so users. If each person used Slack for 30 minutes each day, you could see how quickly those numbers add up. Each account is measured equally, though, providing us a clean, unbiased dataset. And you'll see how different the results for each measurement are. It's these differences that lead to questions that I am excited to answer. But before we ask questions and find the answers, let's dive into the data first. A query Nathaniel ran through Google Big Query I discovered that there are Ten MILLION unique apps and websites accessed by ActivTrak users. That's a lot of apps! But we'll start with the SaaS apps and websites that are used by the most accounts. To get this number, I first sorted the data by months and then found the month where each app appeared on the most accounts. Finally, I limited the results to the top 25. The top 25 SaaS applications are ranked by the number of accounts that use them.

Key Findings from SaaS Usage Present on All Accounts

At first, you see the pretty standard SaaS you'd expect in an office: Excel, Outlook, and Skype. But then you start to see more telling details. For example, several cloud file-sharing and storage applications appear. With DropBox, Amazon Web Services, WeTransfer, and iCloud being used by a large number of accounts, it seems that many ActivTrak customers rely on cloud computing. SaaS apps divided into categories It's also interesting that three out of the top twenty-five applications involve website and blog creation. With WordPress, BlogSpot, and Weebly on the list, we can make a reasonable assumption that a significant portion of ActivTrak customers uses self-created and self-maintained websites. But as we get into the Unique Uses of each SaaS, you'll see a very different picture. A unique use is when a user makes an application the active window. So if I go back and forth checking email several times a day, each time I switch to the Outlook window is counted as a unique use. Take a look and see how much changes when you factor in how frequently an app is used. Top saas apps displayed by unique uses

Key Findings from Unique Uses of SaaS

The biggest change I notice is that the two types of SaaS I mentioned above, Website Management and Cloud Computing, are all but absent from this list. This tells me that while many accounts use these types of programs, they don't use them very often. Or even if they are used daily, they aren't switching between other apps while using them. The users do the work they need to do, then leave the application. Big gaps ar revealed in this unique uses of SaaS apps. Also, notice the enormous differences between Outlook and Excel, and then Excel and Adobe Creative Suite. Outlook leads the pack by a mile, revealing just how much people rely on email and digital communication. They check their inboxes multiple times each day. It's not just Outlook, though. WhatsApp climbed the list. And see how Slack and Thunderbird, neither of which appeared on our first list, are now in the top fifteen applications! How constant the saas apps' presence are across the three measurements Finally, see how many new applications show up on this graph. Almost half of the apps in this graph did not appear on the graph for app representation! You see a larger variety of SaaS, too. Notice the multiple CAD software and industry-specific SaaS. It makes sense. If you're doing your entire job on one application, the amount of times you'll navigate to it is far greater than something like DropBox, which you'll use on a case-by-case basis. So we've got the apps that are accessed with the most frequency. Do you think they will also be the apps with the largest combined session durations? Let's see! The top 25 SaaS Apps when you look at time spent

Key Findings from SaaS Duration of Use

You certainly see several things shift. Probably making the largest shift is AutoCAD. I can see how that is a software a person would spend a lot of time in. Making those intricate drawings is very time-consuming! Significant shifts between SaaS Usage measurements Several apps drop off from the previous graph and are replaced by some we haven't seen before. Oracle Netsuite, Xero Account Software, and RevuCAD are replaced by Sage Business Software, Athena Health Solutions and our friend Amazon Web Services returns from the first graph. But the biggest surprise to me is that Microsoft Word didn't appear on any of the previous graphs and makes its first appearance here. I was baffled at first. I just assumed it would be right up there with Excel and Outlook. After thinking about it, I realized two things:
  • People spend a lot of time in Word, but probably don't access it several times a day. They get in, do their writing, and then get out.
  • People probably use a variety of applications for simple note taking or general writing. You can write in pretty much anything these days. I could even compose a blog post in the body of an email and skip the word processor. When compared to something like Excel which has a very specific job to do that can only be done by a few other applications, Word just isn't something that many businesses need these days.
These are the kinds of conclusions we can draw from the numbers. It's exciting! We're just scratching the surface too. We can break these applications into their web vs. desktop usage. We can see the top applications by industry. Something I'm excited about doing is discovering the preferred source for things like news, searches, or expert advice. We really are only limited by our imaginations. And with the conclusions we draw, we can better understand the people who use ActivTrak. With this knowledge, we can support and develop our product in a way that our customers need. The final graphic I want to show you ranks the app across all three measures. I gave each app a score based on how they performed in the other measurements, added them together, and then came up with an overall ranking.  See if you discover any interesting conclusions when you compare this list to the other three. If you do, let me know!

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