A partly cloudy forecast: Moving to a business intelligence cloud

After years of establishing that business intelligence is a core tenet and a significant mandate for CIOs everywhere, a new debate emerges -- and it’s not about whether BI is important. It’s about where your BI infrastructure should live. Are you ready for your shiny new business intelligence cloud?

Jonathan Hassell

Yes, the cloud phenomenon has reached into BI, too. But what can an organization gain from considering the cloud and its role in

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BI activities? What does the cloud make possible that traditional installations of BI software have not?  Let's break it down.

Reasons for the business intelligence cloud

The ecosystem of third-party data providers is growing, and cloud business intelligence is the most logical way to make use of these services. Many cloud vendors take advantage of the benefits and customization capabilities of service-oriented architecture (SOA) by offering secure, representational state transfer-based application programming interfaces that make programming and integration a relatively simple task.

What’s more, SOA is the bridge to integrating with external data vendors. For example, you could easily mash up internal sales data with governmental, financial and other economic data to get a bigger picture than your on-premises BI silos could provide.

There are also cloud services that promise additional data through record matching; clean up existing data like customer addresses and phone numbers; and provide additional cleansing and data enhancement services. This rich ecosystem of services that enliven and extend the reach of your data   is perhaps the single biggest enhancement to cloud business intelligence. It's this agility that allows your business intelligence cloud strategy to drive investment and overall market strategy in the future.

Another benefit to a BI cloud is that new investments in BI capabilities can be made on demand, without worry about incremental hardware purchases, software licensing and the same old dog-and-pony show that we have all learned to dread. Typically there’s a six- to nine-month lead time on making big IT investments, not to mention the time required to order and install hardware and software, train team members and so on.

With cloud business intelligence services, you can harness new technologies, techniques, capabilities, data vendors and methods of analysis in a matter of minutes -- or at the very least, at the speed your cloud vendor is able to deploy these new technologies. Since these vendors’ cloud business models demand allowing some of the latest and greatest technology and making it available to customers as soon as possible, you can count on being able to spin up new instances in a matter of minutes -- without lead time, budget synchronization and allocation woes.

It's about adding value to the business

BI farms, especially in larger organizations, are typically made up of beefy servers that require expensive software licenses, access to costly storage area network components, and large machines with significant processor and memory capacity. As a midmarket company, you don't have the budget or even the space for all of that tech.

That's where a business intelligence cloud really comes to the rescue. By offloading and outsourcing this to a cloud vendor, you can redeploy these existing investments into new services that will add more value to your business. And if you haven’t yet made the investment, you can avoid the big expenditure and use those budget dollars elsewhere, again to add more value or increase your capacity to deal with other needs within your business.

Jonathan Hassell is president of The Sun Valley Group Inc. He's an author, consultant and speaker in Charlotte, N.C. Hassell's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.  Contact him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

This was first published in August 2011

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