What is Cloud BI (Business Intelligence)?

Business Intelligence, or BI, has been all the rage recently in corporations around the world, especially when it comes to cloud-based BI solutions. In fact, Gartner’s annual survey of the technologies and business needs of CIO’s ranked business intelligence at the top of the list, closely followed by cloud computing.

Top 10 CIO Priorities

But what is Cloud BI and why should you care? This post will explain the basics of cloud computing, cloud-based business intelligence, as well as give you an overview of the top reasons why cloud BI should matter to CIOs and CEOs of SMBs just as much as it does to large, multinational corporates.

What is cloud computing and SaaS?

Gartner defines cloud computing as a style of computing where massively scalable IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using the Internet. The SaaS part of cloud computing refers to software being delivered in this manner. In simple terms, Software as a Service means having your business software live on a remote machine and accessing it via the Internet vs installed on your computer or on a local company network. This means that you can access and use the software anywhere, anytime, and on any device, as long as you’re connected to the Internet.

Some key characteristics of cloud computing and SaaS include:

  • On demand – Instead of paying for a one-off installation on a local computer or server, cloud software is used as needed, when needed.
  • Pool of resources – Information contained in a data warehouse may be distributed in several places at once and the application instances may be shared with different companies or users.
  • Rapid provision – Automatic escalation and release of resources to the users.
  • Anywhere access – Data can be accessed, retrieved, and analyzed from any device, located in any part of the world.
  • New economics – Shift from CAPEX to OPEX.
  • Reduced management cost – Cloud-based software is extremely low maintenance since there are no local installations to manage. This also means faster deployment. Because of high market demand, cloud software usually offers robust security and reliability / up-time.
  • Green IT – A common server reduces the required power supply and cooling systems that would normally be required by each individual company running a local installation, leading to lower levels of CO2 emissions.

What is cloud BI?

Business intelligence is the process of gathering data to convert it into meaningful information using software, tools and methodologies. This in turn aids the decision making of any organization. Business intelligence systems help with activities ranging from discovering-mapping-extracting of data to transforming-modelling-validating the information. Traditional, on premise, BI is not always fast enough to satisfy all queries and business requirements. When business intelligence is delivered in SaaS form, it takes the moniker “Cloud BI.” It can be consumed more easily than a traditional BI tool due to it being lower in costs and easier to deploy. Since it leverages scalable cloud infrastructure, it can also be utilized by more people at the same time without affecting performance or speed.

Why should SMBs invest in business intelligence or business analytics?

Big data has always provided big businesses the upper hand when it comes to competitive advantage. Small and medium businesses have hesitated in investing in business analytics or business intelligence since, traditionally, it has been quite expensive in terms of licensing, infrastructure and maintenance costs. But with the rise of cloud BI, the tide has shifted. For the first time, SMBs are able to afford BI software.

Imagine being able to look at all your sales data for the year and immediately see clear patterns you could act upon. If you see a dip, you can easily investigate why it is and make a plan to avoid it in the future. Or perhaps you’ll see that a particular salesperson closes deals far more quickly than others – you could then put this person on a training track to groom them for a more impactful role. Business analytics enables businesses to see these and other trends in their businesses so that they can do something about it. Every CEO looks at spreadsheets, but it’s not until you see a trend mapped over time that you can point out abnormalities or leading indicators. With Cloud BI, it’s now easier for businesses of all sizes to seize opportunities provided by BI tools.

Why should I choose cloud BI vs on-premise solution?

If the characteristics of SaaS BI outlined above haven’t convinced you, take a look at all the other ways that a cloud solution trumps an on-premise installation.

  • Costs / up-front investment – Cloud business intelligence is easy and inexpensive deploy, ensuring faster return on investment. Also, as there is no hardware or setup expenditure, so the total cost of ownership is quite low.
  • Reliability and scalability –  Cloud computing uses multiple secure locations for data storage and is ideal for recovery at any point to ensure business continuity. Cloud solutions support a number of simultaneous users without any additional costs or delays.
  • Free automated software updates and maintenance – Since the service provider owns and hosts the software, the user is free from time constraints, additional workload on IT resources and their associated costs.
  • Flexibility – SaaS solutions can be altered quickly to give users access to new data analysis and reporting features.
  • Sharing capabilities – SaaS software enables remote data access deployed over the internet thereby ensuring easy cross-location data sharing.
  • On demand performance improvements – By taking advantage of the existing hardware and software resources, users can expand their warehousing capabilities without affecting daily operations.
  • Focus on core activities – SMBs have a lot better areas to spend time and money on than maintaining software. SaaS BI vs on-premise frees up resources so they can focus on growing the business, not on making sure that software is running.

What are your plans in terms of BI? Have you already considered a business analytics or business intelligence solution for your company? Why or why not?

Magda Walczak is a marketer passionate about ecommerce, conversion and user experience. She believes in data-driven marketing and applies this in her work at Einsights. Magda is based in Chicago. You can find her on Twitter at @magda711.

1 Comment

  1. Pat Hennel Reply

    “Big Data” is a scary word for a lot of SMBs. It’s too big to handle, too big to manage and too big to do anything with, right? But that’s not the case anymore. Especially as BI systems focus more and more on the end user (which is not the IT team), turning that data into useful insights is getting easier and easier. You don’t have to wade in and hope you find something useful–it’s there!

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