Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan
24Oct/120

Cloud BI: The Data Integration Challenge

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In recent weeks, I came across a handful of articles and research reports about the public's perception of cloud computing and how many Americans don't seem to understand the concept, yet already use and depend on the cloud despite this lack of understanding. The good news is that business leaders generally have a better understanding of what the cloud has to offer, including the untapped potential of cloud computing to create an integrated picture of business content. Organizations are starting to develop cloud computing strategies to provide context to business operations.

Despite the hype around cloud computing and cloud BI, the real adoption of cloud BI systems is relatively low, according to Howard Dresner's 2012 Wisdom of Crowds Cloud BI Market Study and a Gartner report earlier this year on the major drivers of BI revenue. The delay in adoption isn't because business managers fail to see the value of the cloud; simply put, the barriers to cloud BI adoption are very practical ones – data integration and security being the most frequently cited. arcplan has addressed these concerns previously in our webinar, A Roadmap for BI Cloud Computing, but in this post, I'll explore how businesses are proactively addressing cloud BI data integration concerns.

Business leaders who have implemented cloud BI give positive feedback, naming process efficiency, effectiveness, and gaining a competitive advantage as some of the benefits. But what takes cloud BI to the next level is uniting data from multiple data sources within their organization and leveraging external data resources to get comparable benchmarks. This last piece is only possible in a cloud environment.

One of the biggest opportunities for cloud-based BI is marrying legacy data with cloud-based content in order to create an integrated picture of company operations. The idea is to include cloud data in your BI to provide context – benchmarks and comparable data. For example, one of our partners, GPX Software, integrates Salary.com data (from the cloud) with a company's HR data so users can perform headcount planning and analyze current employee salaries against the benchmark data provided by Salary.com.

But doing this is not without its challenges. In a discussion our SVP Dwight deVera had with Claudia Imhoff, BeyeNetwork faculty member, Imhoff expressed concern about the difficulty in creating a cohesive architecture, one where data is maintainable and manageable in a cloud deployment. Unlike CRM systems and document management systems which are very popular in the cloud, business intelligence data usually lives in its own silos in multiple sources. It's not an easy task to move data from where it resides to the cloud. Dwight says legacy BI has created a lot of "data baggage," and moving a piece of data from one place to the next is costly, creates complex reconciliation points, and sometimes creates infrastructure challenges.

So instead of moving your data to the cloud, arcplan recommends the above approach of marrying legacy data with data that is already in the cloud. You can do this by broadcasting queries, aka "query as a web service." What this means is that platforms like arcplan can query cloud data sources and send the information back to the BI system, essentially integrating the cloud data with your traditional data warehouse information. Yes, there are challenges with this approach – one being that the cloud data is returned as XML, which is large and does have an impact on performance, but this approach does work and it’s one way to leverage the cloud without having to move your entire business intelligence infrastructure to the cloud.

Fortunately, the transition to cloud BI is not an all-or-nothing approach. Data can be migrated to the cloud as needed, allowing business managers to still reap the benefits of cloud BI. Query as a web service has proven to be a tactical and effective way of marrying traditional cloud systems and those on premise to create a complete BI picture.

There are creative ways to address data integration concerns between traditional BI data sources and data already residing in the cloud in order to get a holistic view of the organization. Despite the slow start, Gartner reports an uptick in cloud adoption and services, with forecasted growth to surpass $109B in 2012. With the many advantages that cloud BI has to offer, we’ll see more and more businesses implementing cloud BI strategies to make their analysis more robust.


arcplan Enterprise provides a platform that is web service enabled, allowing users to query traditional cloud systems and those on premise to create a full BI picture.  The BI Survey 12, one of the largest surveys of BI users in the world, ranked arcplan #1 among Enterprise Reporting and Large Enterprise Project vendors in Innovation, Collaboration, and Customer Satisfaction  – attributes that are important for delivering effective cloud-based BI systems and BI solutions that simply work. Read more about our survey results >>

Monique Morgan

About Monique Morgan

I'm the Marketing Project Manager at arcplan and work out of our Wayne, PA office. I'm originally from Jamaica but came to the US for college and I've been here ever since. I'm the voice behind a lot of arcplan's videos on YouTube - check them out here: http://www.youtube.com/arcplan.
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