Given the current state of the global economy, organizations have become more cautious with their investments and are always on the lookout for innovative ways to best utilize their available resources. This scenario calls for re-thinking and demands a blend of Business Intelligence (BI) and Cloud Computing. This will allow SMBs to take advantage in gaining and maintaining a competitive edge without additional investments in IT infrastructure thus making BI flexible and extremely affordable.
With BI on Cloud, organizations of any size can share timely and accurate data on real time basis that provides the ability to make critical business decisions and improve performance considerably. This need is acutely felt in all kind of organizations because of the high volumes of data and the multiple data types that are being generated. The best way to deal with this challenge is to systematically warehouse / store all of this data and then apply BI tools to analyze and derive meaningful information and results from the data.
BI delivered via SaaS seems to be on the edge of a wave of popularity, but it also brings some risks of migrating sensitive data on the cloud. Organizations would prefer implementing BI solutions where the data migration issues are minimal, i.e. amount of data that needs to be migrated / integrated is small, and this typically involves applications where the user base is in or outside the organizations. These applications are easy to deploy, demand fewer resources to control and maintain, and also claim lower cost of ownership compared to an on-premise solution. Such BI applications can be marketing automation, vendor management, campaign management et al.
Justifying ROI of a BI tool is the most significant problem faced by BI tool vendors in an enterprise. Especially in such a scenario a cloud BI implementation with pay-per-use model becomes very attractive proposition for enterprises.
Almost all BI tool vendors either have announced or will announce a strategy for cloud –the products using the ‘onDemand’ to label their cloud offerings. Some smaller vendors are offering tools on Amazon EC2 which makes it easy for vendors to use them if they already have data on the EC2 cloud, some ETL vendors are allowing people to seamlessly upload their data on different SaaS platforms like Salesforce.com, Google Apps, etc.
While the current environment hints at several of the aforementioned advantages of the technology, they also bring into focus the challenges that need to be overcome in order to make BI on Cloud model work:
Moving data to the cloud - This is an expensive proposition due to the network costs ; Storing data in the cloud - A lot of data is core and proprietary to lot of enterprises; BI components as a service - So far only a limited set of services are available from established BI vendors.
BI services like ETL, analytics, reporting and visualization would start to be embedded within PaaS offerings. More public data sets would be available on the cloud which will trigger a range of associated BI services to be available. An a la carte combination of various BI tools to create your own BI framework would be possible as pay per use mode.
The Road Ahead
Across various industry segments, cloud computing is gaining high prominence and is being considered as a critical element of an IT strategy, as compared to being a peripheral activity. As a result, BI will need to be adapted to incorporate cloud concepts. This will drive SMBs to seek immediate ROI and gain a competitive edge.
Shreekanth Joshi is Associate Vice President, Practice Head for SaaS and Cloud, Persistent Systems Ltd.