Data as a Feature: The New Differentiator for Software Builders

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It is a great time to be alive if you are a technology consumer. The era of “there’s an app for that” has quickly evolved into the era of “there are 10 apps for that”, meaning users have more choice than ever over which applications they adopt. Lower barriers to developing and providing an application have lowered the common denominator for software builders.

With an influx of new applications, product managers are having to find creative new ways to differentiate their offerings from the pack. User experience has proven to be one of the new differentiators and, in many in cases, is perceived as more important to users than core features and capabilities. In the new era of software, the best applications—the ones that stick—are those that pair great user experience with the powerful potential that lies within data. The best applications treat data as a feature of their product or service.

What exactly is “data as a feature”? It is the act and process of treating data as a core component of an application in a way that delivers value to the end user. One of the primary drivers for any product manager is to build a product that helps users achieve a goal or set of goals. When designed and packaged in the right way, data is a potent asset that allows users to reach goals and appreciate the full value of an application.

Need proof? Look at consumer applications like and Strava—two of the most successful apps in their respective domains. took the traditionally difficult task of deciphering financial information and made it easy for virtually any user to intelligently manage their finances. Strava accomplished the same feat in the world of personal fitness by allowing users to train smarter and reach cycling and running goals. Both applications provide highly visual interfaces that allow users of any competency to intuitively interact with data. Having these data experiences within the context of the application allows users to not only consume helpful insights, but act on those insights at the point of consumption.

And although data as a feature started in consumer products, business applications are capitalizing on the same practice as well. The HR & Finance application, Workday, uses thoughtfully designed charts and visualizations to give its non-technical, non-analyst users the power to make data-driven decisions around recruiting and workforce management.

Software product managers are a rare breed. Not many people have the creative vision, technical chops, and pragmatic decision-making skills that come with the job of product management. To meet demands of the next generation of application users, product managers must employ all of these weapons and look for new ways to differentiate their products from an increasingly crowded market. With a surplus of data at our disposal, many software builders are unknowingly sitting on gold mines of untapped data that can be unlocked for their users. By treating data as a feature, product managers can make stickier applications by helping users reach goals faster and more confidently with data.

To explore the concept of data as a feature and learn key considerations around embedded analytics, download the complimentary new O’Reilly eBook, Data as a Feature: A Guide for Product Managers.