What are entitlements in SaaS?

Sarah Goomar

Imagine letting every single user have access to all of your SaaS product’s features: an unfathomably bad idea. Of course, nobody does that because there’s something called entitlements. 

This blog post aims to answer the question, “What are entitlements in SaaS?” 

But that’s not all. We’ll also cover:

  • How entitlements work
  • Why entitlements are so crucial in SaaS
  • Implementation tips for the uninitiated
  • Tips and best practices for managing entitlements
  • Common management pitfalls and how to avoid them

Let’s get started. 

Definition and purpose of entitlements in SaaS

SaaS entitlements are the rights and permissions a customer receives based on their subscription plan.

Think of it like a customized hotel keycard: Depending on your room type (plan), it unlocks certain doors (features) and services (support, storage, etc.).

Entitlements go beyond simple "access" or "no access" — they can be highly granular. Some common types you'll find are:

  • Feature gates: Whether a particular feature is available (e.g., premium reporting).
  • Usage limits: How much a customer can consume a feature (e.g., storage space, API calls).
  • Configuration settings: Customizing how a feature works for a specific customer (e.g., data retention period).

Entitlements let SaaS companies create personalized, scalable, and profitable subscription models. They help ensure that every customer receives the right level of service. Plus, they help you make sure your software resources are used appropriately.

How do entitlements work in SaaS?

Entitlements act as digital "keys" that control what each user can access within a SaaS product. Based on the user's subscription plan, these keys unlock specific features, data, and service levels.

For example, a "Basic" plan user might have limited features and storage, while a "Premium" user gets full access. Within a team, "admin" users might have broader permissions than "standard" users.

The great thing about entitlements is that they can change dynamically as user needs or subscriptions evolve. An upgrade could unlock new features or a promotional offer could grant temporary access to premium services.

An entitlement management system usually tracks each customer's entitlements and translates them into access rights within your SaaS. This system controls what users see and can do, often through real-time checks whenever they interact with a feature.

Why are entitlements in SaaS so important?

Using entitlements in SaaS has benefits that directly impact customer satisfaction, security, and compliance:

Customization for a better customer experience

  • One size doesn't fit all: Different customers have unique needs. Entitlements let you create plans with specific features, storage levels, or support options. The goal is to cater to different segments, budgets, or use cases.
  • Driving upgrades: By creating a tiered system where additional value is unlocked through upgrades, you incentivize customers to invest more in your product over time.
  • Personalization: Even within the same plan, entitlements can be used to fine-tune access for individual users. This guarantees they only see features relevant to their role.

Security for protecting sensitive data 

  • Access control: Entitlements act as a protective layer. They help ensure that sensitive data or features are only accessible to authorized users or roles. This is vital for protecting customer information and intellectual property.
  • Data governance: Entitlements can be aligned with regulatory requirements (e.g., HIPAA and GDPR). The goal is to help you control who can access or modify specific types of information.
  • Reducing risk: Limiting access based on need minimizes the chance of data breaches or misuse. This means you're safeguarding both your company and your customers' reputations.

Compliance with regulations

  • Meeting legal obligations: Entitlements help you adhere to industry-specific and international data regulations. This is especially critical for SaaS businesses operating globally.
  • Proof of compliance: In the event of an audit, a well-designed entitlement system allows you to prove that you're following the rules. This saves you from facing penalties or legal challenges.
  • Adapting to change: Regulations change frequently. Entitlements let you adjust access rights in response to new requirements, keeping you compliant.

Implementing entitlements in SaaS applications

The heart of effective entitlement management lies in using a specialized tool, an entitlement management system (EMS).

What is an EMS?

An EMS is the central hub for all things entitlement-related within your SaaS application. It allows you to:

  • Define entitlements: Create and configure the permissions each user or subscription plan gets.
  • Track entitlements: Maintain a clear record of who has access to what features, services, or data.
  • Enforce entitlements: Automatically grant or restrict access based on these predefined rules. This ensures that users only see and use what they're allowed to.

Throwing Identity and Access Management (IAM) into the mix

You want to make entitlements work with as little friction as possible. To do so, it's key to integrate your EMS with your Identity and Access Management (IAM) solution. IAM is responsible for verifying user identities and determining what actions they can and can’t take.

When these two systems work together, you get a powerful combination:

  • Smooth UX: Users log in once, and their identity and entitlements are verified automatically. They gain access to the right features without additional steps.
  • Centralized control: You manage user identities, roles, and entitlements in one place, simplifying administration and reducing the risk of errors.
  • Tighter security: Combining IAM with an EMS creates a more secure environment. Only authorized users can access sensitive data or features based on their roles and entitlements.

What does this look like in practice?

Let's say a user logs into your SaaS platform. The IAM system verifies their identity (usually through a username and password). 

Then, the EMS checks their entitlements and instantly tailors their experience to match. They'll only see the features they're allowed to use, and any usage limits will be enforced automatically.

Tips and best practices for managing entitlements

Define crystal-clear access roles

Start by crafting a well-defined framework of user roles within your SaaS application. Imagine this as a blueprint for access. Each role should have a distinct set of permissions that align perfectly with the responsibilities and needs of that user group. 

For example, a "viewer" role might have read-only access, an "editor" can modify content, and an "admin" wields complete control. This clarity isn't just about organization. It's about preventing confusion and guaranteeing that every user has the necessary access.

Stay ahead of the curve with regular audits

You should think of your SaaS application as a living, breathing entity. It’s constantly evolving with new features, updated workflows, and potential pricing adjustments. 

Regular entitlement audits act as your compass, keeping your settings in sync with your product's current state. Check for outdated roles, unused permissions, or security vulnerabilities that may have crept in. 

Don’t neglect user-friendly interfaces for smoother administration

A user-friendly interface is your secret weapon for efficient entitlement management. Don't let complexity bog down your team. Opt for an intuitive platform or tool that simplifies assigning and modifying user entitlements. 

This empowers non-technical folk within your organization. It saves valuable time and reduces the risk of errors. Remember, a smooth and accessible interface is vital to keeping your team productive and your customers happy.

Challenges you might face with SaaS entitlement management

Scaling your SaaS business is exciting, but it also means managing entitlements for a growing number of users with varying needs. Here are two significant challenges and how to overcome them:

Navigating the maze of large organizations

  • Embrace role-based access control (RBAC): Don't assign entitlement to every individual user. Create roles that reflect standard job functions or responsibilities. This simplifies management and provides consistency across departments.
  • Group-based entitlements: For large organizations with many teams, group users with similar needs. Then, assign entitlements at the group level. This saves time and ensures everyone on a team has the proper access.
  • Delegation of authority: It's impractical for a single administrator to manage all entitlements. Let department heads or team leaders manage entitlements within their own groups. You’re making sure decisions are made closer to the people who understand the specific needs.

Balancing flexibility with control

  • Self-service options: Users can request additional entitlements through a self-service portal, reducing administrative overhead and allowing users to tailor their experience without constantly needing approvals. 
  • Approval workflows: Use approval workflows when users request access beyond their standard role. This adds an extra layer of security and oversight.
  • Usage monitoring and reporting: Track how users are using their entitlements. This will let you identify potential misuse or opportunities for upselling to higher-tier plans. It will also help you make better decisions to improve your SaaS entitlement strategy.

Next steps

You're now familiar with entitlements in SaaS, but that’s not the end of the road. Managing entitlements can be tricky and help is always welcome. 

That’s where Orb comes in handy. 

Orb is a powerful, done-for-you billing management platform. Thanks to Orb’s sophisticated tools, integrating and managing SaaS entitlements is much easier. 

Experience a hands-on demo and discover how Orb does it.

June 14, 2024

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