BI in the Cloud: Rainy Day or Lightning Strike?

What is Cloud BI?

If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts, then you probably know that I don’t shy away from the clichéd buzz words/phrases.  This time around, I thought we’d tackle two at a time (Cloud & BI).  Cloud based Business Intelligence (aka Cloud BI) is the Software as a Service (SaaS) version of analytics and reporting.  It takes on many forms from a full vendor offering based solely in the cloud (Birst, Jaspersoft, GoodData, etc.) to the larger vendor software platforms that can be hosted on cloud-based services like AWS (SAP BusinessObjects, MicroStrategy, etc.).  In the end, as cloud-based everything becomes more reliable and trusted as a delivery method for SaaS, cloud-based analytics & reporting will naturally become increasingly attractive to organizations.

In 2013, Gartner found that 30% of organizations considered a Cloud BI deployment over the past 5 years and predicted that 46% of organizations will have considered a Cloud BI deployment by 2015.  While the 2015 Gartner report showed a slight downturn in the interest in Cloud BI (down to 42% from 45% in 2014), they go on to state that this category will continue to grow as Line of Business adoption increases.

What Cloud BI offerings are there?

Well…there are a lot of offerings, and the decision on where to look starts with your desire for full-fledged Cloud solution or full-fledged solution in the Cloud.  It sounds like a minor distinction, but all of the major vendors (IBM, SAP, MicroStrategy, Microsoft, etc.) will offer you the ability to run your environment in the Cloud.  While others, like Birst and GoodData, have offerings that are only available through the cloud.

As with any Cloud-based solution, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the premier platform, allowing for rapid deployments of SAP BusinessObjects, MicroStrategy, Jaspersoft, and many, many others.  As with any other AWS implementation, you purchase the server and it’s up and running in minutes and you can throttle as necessary within your AWS agreement.  It is a pure SaaS offering.

Figure 1: “Like it or Not, Self-Service BI and Cloud BI are Here”; Jen Underwood; July 2013

Conversely, GoodData and Birst offer the ability to work directly through them for a purely Analytics as a Service (AaaS) model, where there is no Administration, AWS to manage/throttle, or anything other than your interaction with a web-based interface.  This model allows companies who aren’t already trying cloud in other arenas or companies who haven’t had the traditional IT or on-premise server support to dabble in the Analytics market without tremendous investment/expertise.

What are the primary drivers/concerns for putting BI in the Cloud?

As with most Cloud based (or SaaS) offerings these days, it comes down to a few key factors.  The graph in Figure 2 shows some feedback from a survey done by EMA in January 2015.  Clearly and as expected, “Security” & “Reliability” were the key implementation factors for Analytics in the Cloud, but I think the most telling was that “Vendor/Brand” & “Platform Manageability” were at the bottom.  This tells me that folks are more concerned about Cloud as a stable platform than they are with the feature set or who’s offering it.  To paraphrase, Cloud based Analytics are still immature and lower tier priority for organizations who have most likely invested recently in additional/upgraded Analytics.

Figure 2: “Analytics in the Cloud”; Enterprise Management Associates End-User Research Report; January 2015


Call it a slow rumbling Thunder.  I am a proponent of Cloud-based and SaaS solutions.  Analytics as a Service especially make sense as there is so much turnover and growth in the functionality sets for each platform, not to mention that not all companies can afford the lofty server maintenance/administration costs.  However, there are some concerns around data security that cause some companies to hesitate.  The good news is that many of the vendors are well aware of this and most have solutions in place sufficient enough for most companies. (NOTE: Some Healthcare and Publicly Traded companies have data restriction guidelines that prevent them from participating currently, but those concerns are being addressed.)  The Cloud-based Analytics space will continue to grow with, and ultimately outpace, the growth of Cloud in general, but for now I’d recommend looking to your BI platform vendor for their Cloud Roadmap.  If none exists, then look for a new BI platform.

What next?

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