Business intelligence (BI) is a widely-used term and a concept that naturally arose with the proliferation of big data. With the latest BI systems and software also came the emergence of cloud BI. What does this term mean and why is it gaining so much traction among SMBs and corporations alike?
Cloud BI Defined
In a cloud BI-based system, the entire BI system, including data storage, desk software, customer relationship management tool, Salesforce applications, and all other parts that make up the system are stored in the cloud. In many cases, this entails a public cloud from a software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor. Other companies, however, may store BI software in a customized private or hybrid cloud system.
The popularity of the cloud and BI as separate entities speaks for itself. BI storage on the cloud has not completely reached a mainstream success wave as of yet, though it’s getting there. A 2014 survey revealed that cloud BI jumped by 53% between 2012 and 2014.
Cloud BI Benefits
What is the reasoning behind cloud BI, as opposed to BI stored in in-house servers? There are perks associated with adopting a cloud BI solution.
It’s a Cost Saver
A SaaS vendor will determine whether BI in the cloud is the better solution for your specific business. In most cases, it’s indeed the lower-cost alternative, especially for SMBs. Factors like the initial installation, updates, and ongoing maintenance are all handled by the vendor.
Another cost-saving factor is that most SaaS vendors only charge for what you use. Most operate on a pay-as-you-go system. There is no need to invest in expensive BI software packages that come with dozens of features your company doesn’t need. With cloud BI, you can seamlessly scale up or down in tune with changing industry needs.
There is a prevailing belief that public cloud is vulnerable to cyber threats. The word “public” certainly creates concerns about the safety of sensitive data. Rest assured, though, that public cloud, while not 100% hack proof (nothing is), is still a generally safe location for BI storage. The vendor’s reputation hinges on the safety of their clients’ data, so they’re going to implement the latest security features to keep the data safe at all cost. This includes state-of-the-art protection, such as:
- 24/7 monitoring
- Security patches to combat zero-day attacks
- Data segregation
- Data encryption
- Multi-tiered caching
- Multi-tier authentication, including fingerprint and voice recognition
All these implementations are included with cloud BI, whereas you are responsible for all the cost and implementation of the above points if you store your BI tools in an in-house storage.
The entire BI system is installed in a single location that all authorized users have immediate access to. This reduces the possibility of duplicate data or having similar versions of near-identical information stored in multiple servers and devices. This keeps everyone on the same page.
Ease of Use
Cloud BI is easy to access and use. The data is available 24/7 and can be accessed by anyone with an authorized account using a mobile or other personal device. All admin settings are handled by the vendor. Changes may also be made on your end by simply making changes from the dashboard.
Reports can also be automatically generated with a click of a button. Have the data compiled into a chart or diagram of your choice and disseminate it across channels or print them for a hardcopy report for that upcoming corporate meeting. Such ease of use also saves you the hassle, time, and resource from having to manually produce a report.
For all of its benefits, there may be some limitations as well. Some vendors may not provide exactly what your company requires, or it may require a more expensive customized solution. Does the vendor provide key features, such as:
- Data mining tools
- Automatic data visualization generator
- Dashboard customization
- Statistical analysis
- Ad hoc reporting
Also, be on the lookout for additional or hidden costs. You may, for example, incur additional fees or be required to upgrade your plan if your storage exceeds the allowable limit. There may also be instances where you need to outsource your BI to two or more different cloud vendors in order to meet all your specific needs. This means data being spread out instead of being organized in a single location. You will need a system in place then to ensure the two separate data sets are continuously synchronized instead of being siloed. Hiring two or more SaaS vendors may also nullify any cost-savings benefits.
In most cases, the pros outweigh the cons. Nevertheless, SMBs should always consult with a vendor to determine if cloud BI is suitable for their business model. Not all SaaS providers offer the same tools, so look for one that provides a comprehensive solution or a customized service package.