In Part I, I talked about a couple of reasons why cloud BI hasn’t gone mainstream yet – the inherent complexity of BI systems and the amount of data produced daily. Then I presented a secure way for data to remain in place but your BI to move into the cloud. (web services-based SOA broadcast services, essentially querying data that exists behind your corporate firewall from the cloud). Today let’s weigh the risks vs. rewards of moving your BI to the cloud.
Choosing a Cloud BI Vendor
Do you stick with your familiar BI software as it adapts to a SaaS model or go with a newcomer offering true SaaS? Be sure to carefully consider your business requirements and go with a vendor that meets them. You may risk going with a smaller vendor, but you are more likely to get the BI deployment you want.
Certainly evaluate the long-term cost of ownership – cloud BI may be more affordable at the outset and allow you to avoid the capital expenditure approval process, but will it cost more in the end? The reward of a quick implementation and “easy out” may be worth the risk of higher long-term cost and may lead to additional benefits, like allowing you to scale your BI to more users throughout the organization faster.
Sticking with an in-house BI deployment results in your IT team spending time to set up, tweak, maintain, and debug servers – time that could be better spent elsewhere…
Many (if not most) companies are evaluating the benefits and risks of cloud-based solutions this year. In fact, marketing research firm IDC predicts that businesses will spend $22.6 billion on cloud services by 2015. However, there is one area that has fallen behind the cloud – business intelligence. But it’s ready to emerge. Even organizations with traditional (hosted on-premise) BI systems in place can make the move. Let’s consider the practicalities of doing so.
Organizations that have deployed business intelligence have first-hand knowledge of the complexities of such a system – the vast network of linked parts and pieces, from data warehouses to ETL applications, OLAP servers to analytical dashboards. It’s a jungle out there and it’s clear that it can’t continue this way for much longer. A more repeatable and sustainable model for business intelligence must emerge – one that reduces the complexity while maintaining security and enhancing ease of use.
The Data Question
For services like CRM and document collaboration, the roadmap for moving to the cloud has already been established by companies like Salesforce.com and Google. But for BI, it’s not as clear. The sensitivity and volume of data as well as the inherent complexity of BI systems have left executing a cloud-based BI strategy more of a dream than a reality.
Many believe that the next logical step in BI’s evolution is moving it to the cloud. However, when looking at the characteristics of a modern day BI deployment, it’s easy see how getting there is complicated.
Let’s take a look at just one aspect of a cloud BI deployment: the amount of data that would need to be moved, stored, and processed. There’s a reason we’re all talking about big data these days – according to April Adams, research director at Gartner, data capacity in enterprises is growing at 40% to 60% year over year…
Cost efficiency, flexibility, and availability of data are key advantages of cloud business intelligence
This year, cloud computing is set to dominate CeBIT, the international IT and telecommunications trade fair held each year near arcplan’s headquarters in Germany. According to a recent survey by the analyst firm IDC, cloud computing will account for 10% of global IT expenditure by the year 2013. While we have taken advantage of cloud offerings in our private lives without hesitation for years (just think of Google Maps and Gmail), businesses have only been comfortable with a few applications (like CRM) residing in the cloud. Many companies still have doubts when it comes to shifting applications into the cloud when security is critical, as it is with business intelligence. Concerns over data security breaches and their consequences are holding some businesses back; however, the advantages of cloud-based BI clearly outweigh the potential drawbacks. Here are our most important reasons for moving business intelligence applications into the cloud.
Cost efficiency is key
Among the greatest advantages of cloud BI are cost savings and reduced capital commitment. Upgrades, maintenance and administration of on-premise software are time-consuming and costly. If companies shift their BI solutions into the cloud, they will no longer have to budget for large, up-front purchases of software packages or carry out time-consuming updates on local servers. In the cloud, upgrades are installed directly by the service provider in near real-time. Using any kind of device (desktop computer, laptop, tablet PC, or smartphone), employees can access the most recent version of their BI solution, independent of location and without having to download upgrades or request updates from the IT department. Users can therefore focus completely on data consumption and analysis, getting the most from BI without having to deal with the infrastructure.
Large- and small-scale flexibility
Companies that manage their own BI systems on-premise have invested in their infrastructure to deal with ever-increasing quantities of data. To analyze data volumes amounting to petabytes or even exabytes and have a 360-degree view of data in real-time, immense processing power and extremely large amounts of memory are required. For processor-intensive BI applications, solutions running in-house can quickly reach their limits. This makes another of cloud BI’s advantages clear: the enormous flexibility afforded by cloud software deployment.
The terms “reporting” and “business intelligence” are often used interchangeably, but in reality, reporting is just one of the common functions of BI. It’s the presentation layer of BI, or the result of data being pulled from repositories and presented to decision-makers. With the number of employees at all levels now considered decision-makers, reporting has become even more important. It’s not just a small subset of power-users who need reports anymore; reports have to evolve to become useful to casual BI users.
The beginning of the year is a great time to evaluate the state of your company’s BI reporting. Are you simply manipulating data within Excel? Do you need more powerful reporting that pulls from multiple data sources?
Let’s talk about some ways to take your reporting to the next level.
1) Consider design. Reports that are visually confusing or overwhelming will not be favored by BI consumers. In the case where your organization is working off of reporting dashboards, some pitfalls to avoid include too many visuals on one screen, inappropriate use of graphs, and the wrong chart types for your data. Charts should include summary-to-detail navigation, so users do not have to leave the screen to analyze what they are seeing. There are many rules to great dashboard design, but the key is to let the reports tell the story and not let the screen be overrun by imagery and “flashing lights.”
2) Get faster with in-memory. In-memory processing takes advantage of the speed of RAM to decrease the response time for queries, significantly enhancing the end user’s experience. It allows report creators and consumers to engage with large data sets quicker than ever before, which results in faster and more proactive decision-making thanks to more immediate, interactive analysis. Most reporting platforms include in-memory capabilities, but only some address security (making sure only the right sets of users have access to certain data and queries).
3) Implement delivery mechanisms.