A Cloud-Native Approach Democratizes Self-Service BI
The cloud is drastically changing the landscape of business intelligence (BI). New cloud applications have major advantages over traditional BI leaders, offering similar capabilities at a fraction of the cost. Cloud solutions enable major improvements in collaboration, security, integration, cost, customization, and support, but most importantly, they help remove the responsibility of BI from the IT department task list.
Most BI tools put emphasis on producing flashy charts and reports, yet they abandon users at the most critical juncture: they have no mechanisms in place to allow users to take action on the analyzed results. A cloud-native approach easily enables integrated collaboration features that take over where the analysis ends with traditional BI tools. It provides users a centralized place in the cloud to facilitate a complete, end-to-end data analysis and decision-making lifecycle. Tasks can be created no matter where the user is browsing in the system with notifications automatically pushed to relevant parties through emails or text messages to remind them in real-time that there are actions that need to be taken. Users should not have to sift through emails or messages to check on the status of a task. All comments, feedback, uploaded related documents, and correspondences, as well as detailed history for tracking and auditing, can be made available in one accessible place.
With traditional extract, transform, load (ETL), the common practice is to tap into databases in the customers’ environment. Aside from requiring an exorbitant amount of time and resources from the IT staff, some BI tools even require opening inbound ports in the customers’ intranet to allow data to be pulled from their systems into the external BI application, which presents a significant security risk. A cloud-native architecture — when done right — would allow customers to push a selective portion of their data to the cloud, which only requires authorizing outbound traffic and overall is a much safer approach as the customers’ intranet is not exposed to the outside world.
Ground-based or browser-based BI tools cannot easily compete with a cloud-native infrastructure when it comes to its inherent ability to seamlessly integrate outside data sources including spreadsheets, relational databases, web services, and networking devices. They also have the apparent advantage of integrating with third-party, cloud-based services and social media. For example, DrivenBI’s full-fledged, cloud-based platform SRK is integrated into Salesforce and shows up as a tab within Salesforce’s web page. Salesforce users can simply click on the SRK Analytics tab and see an integrated view and analysis of virtually any outside data from directly within the Salesforce platform. Only a cloud-native platform can accomplish this.
If an organization were to roll out an on-premise BI platform solution on a large scale, the licensing models would require a substantial capital investment plus the ongoing maintenance cost as applications and servers are installed. Capital investment also imposes vendor lock down; because a significant chunk of budget has already been spent, organizations may have no choice but to keep using what they’ve purchased even if later on their objectives have shifted or better solutions have emerged. Cloud-native solutions offer a simple yet flexible subscription-based pricing model. There is no capital investment, it’s easy to get started, and easy to scale up as the organization’s analysis demand increases.
Cloud-native infrastructures have a host of additional benefits as well. These include easy and constant access to support, simple customization, onboarding and sampling capabilities that don’t require sales teams, continuous free product upgrades, zero maintenance, and data cleaning and importing done by the people who own the data and need the analysis.
Cloud Native vs. Web Accessible
It’s important to point out that cloud-based BI is not necessarily cloud-native BI. Virtually all BI vendors claim to have “cloud-based” solutions, yet in reality, they have solutions that provide “web-based” access. Cloud-native solutions eliminate the back-end headaches of setting up a BI solution. Vendors that offer these cloud solutions can focus on making a clean and simple interface that real users of analytics can understand. A truly cloud-native solution requires no hardware or software on a customer site. Some enterprises may require this, yet it’s the very issue that consumes IT’s valuable time. It’s simply no longer needed.
Just because a vendor claims ease of use, doesn’t mean it’s true. However, some are better than
others in different stages — from the beginning (preparing data) to the end (building analysis and acting upon the findings). It may be easy for business professionals to use the dashboards built by IT experts, but someone with the necessary technical expertise has to build them first.
The most powerful data analytics today no longer require programming, data warehouses, online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes, or ETL tools. This is something that large enterprises have a hard time wrapping their heads around. Most “self-service” BI tools either choose to neglect data processing, requiring source data to be as clean as possible and with pre-built data models, or are bundled with ETL tools which inevitably get IT involved and fall back to the IT-centric BI approach.
Slowing the Progress
The migration to these cloud-native solutions has been slowed by software vendors who have a strangle hold on large accounts that remain fraught with complexity. As these older solutions begin to move toward a cloud infrastructure (which they weren’t designed to do), complexities have gotten even worse. These stalwarts have either built their solutions based on somewhat inaccurate ideas of self-service, or tried migrating their existing traditional BI solutions to the cloud without renovating the legacy technical infrastructure. These headaches continue to be handed off to the IT staff who do their best to work around, reprogram, or look to the vendors themselves (at hefty fees) to provide the set up structure.
Many large enterprises have no choice. If you’re a “Microsoft shop” you’re forced into PowerBI regardless if it’s the best model for your business. Other large enterprises refuse to look at the cloud approach because they have poured millions into BI solutions and need to show some form of return on investment (ROI). Scrapping these solutions would be admitting mistakes were made. But the truth is, these systems are either underutilized or not used at all.
Putting Analytics into the Hands of Creatives
Bringing cloud-native technology together with self-service BI is a game-changer. Enterprises that are relying on creative executives to communicate effectively with IT to import, compile, and integrate the data they need in the ways they need it are making a huge mistake. They are asking groups with very different ways of thinking to collaborate. Asking IT to manage your BI is akin to letting your marketing team program your firewall. It used to be that only people with a technical background could set this initiative in motion. The cloud has changed all of that!
Enabling the creatives to control, view, and act on the data is still in its infancy. The ways these folks will use analysis will be an interesting phenomenon to watch. With expanding social media, the Internet of Things (IoT), and data coming from more sources than ever before, enterprises have only begun to make their data work better for them. The next and far more interesting wave of analytics is just beginning.
Ben Tai is the Founder and CEO of DrivenBI. Before launching DrivenBI, Ben was most recently vice president of global services at Business Objects, now an SAP company. At Business Objects, he led the worldwide XI migration program office to drive R2 product adoption. Prior to Business Objects, Ben was vice president and he lead worldwide professional services at Vitria, the premier provider of enterprise application integration (EAI) and business process management (BPM) software.
Before Vitria, Ben developed his career for 13 years at Oracle, one of the world’s largest enterprise and database providers. His last position at Oracle was group vice president and he lead the managed services business unit. Ben holds a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and studied American Culture at Columbia University and Business Administration at the USC Marshall Business School.