Cloud business intelligence is an intriguing segment of the BI world. It will definitely be one of the key trends in the industry in the next several years.
One of the biggest challenges to implementing an enterprise wide software system is the infrastructure that is needed. Companies need to consider their underlying database, server hardware, and IT support needed for an installation. While many organizations prefer the control of hosting their data on their own equipment, it does have its drawbacks. There is a hard cost to the infrastructure, and it must be sized right. Sizing in itself is difficult. Too little and you can choke off capacity for the end users and require a reinvestment. Too much and you are paying for unused systems. You also must have experienced staff to maintain the systems, which can be especially daunting for a company with no existing BI implementation.
The advantages of a virtual hosted system is that the software, and often the underlying data as well, is Companies can pay for only the usage they have, and easily scale up or down depending on need. The system tuning is done by the hosting company, so the need for technical expertise is minimalized. With the success in other software industries, like CRM and Salesforce.com, its surprising that’s taken this long for vendors to offer virtual environments. Microstrategy has been one of the first big vendors to provide an option. Many of the smaller dashboard and visualization focused BI vendors, like Tableau, have had free web-based versions for years, but those are geared more toward a personal user. Zoho is another web-based small business application vendor that has BI functionality. Some of the new entrants into the space are providing their products as web-based only, such as GoodData and Pivotlink.
Small and mid-sized businesses in particular seem to be particularly best suited for this type of setup. Smaller companies typically have limited budgets and IT resources for a business intelligence configuration. However, the need for information and data is as real as with larger companies.
A virtual environment is not for all types of BI implementations. Industries with extremely sensitive data requirements, such as defense, medical, or finance and banking, understandably have deep reservations about putting their data in the cloud. There is definitely a degree of liability that could be there.
Here are some other providers of SaaS BI:
Birst - One of the pioneers in the space.
Actuate - Has an open source based BIRT on Demand product.
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