Why On Demand Business Intelligence?
If you are looking for a BI tool for reporting and data analytics, you possibly will be confronted to choose from one of the following options.
- In premises, traditional business intelligence tools
- On-demand BI tools (also known as SaaS Business intelligence tools)
In this document, we will discuss in brief why you should choose an On-Demand BI tool against traditional, in-premise BI tools.
Also check out Spreadsheets vs Zoho Reports, for a more in-depth discussion on how Zoho Reports scores over spreadsheets being used as your business intelligence tool.
Future for On-Demand Software or Software as Service (SaaS)
"SaaS growth shows no signs of slowing. SaaS will account for some 15 percent of enterprise application purchases by 2015, up from 10 percent now" - Gartner, Sept 2011.
It is now an accepted fact that, on-demand software has become an essential part of almost every organization in one way or another. Just the scale of adoption varies. Right from email to traditional transactional systems like CRM, Marketing, Customer Service etc., are more and more being adopted in the on-demand way. Google Apps, Salesforce, Zoho and a whole bandwagon of on-demand service providers are now consistently figuring in the list during any business software evaluation by any organization. With this trend being irreversible, it might not be surprising to see Gartner's prediction being surpassed long ahead of 2015.
What About On-Demand BI or SaaS BI?
So far the on-demand focus has been more on the office productivity software like email, calendar etc., and on transactional systems like CRM, Marketing, Human Resources, Finance etc. As data collection and business process automation is driven more by on-demand software, the natural course that is evolving is the adoption of on-demand BI tools for reporting and data analysis needs.
"According to a survey of 1,364 IT managers and business users of BI tools in the fourth quarter of 2011, 17 percent of organizations have replaced or plan to replace parts of their core BI functions with cloud/SaaS offerings. However, almost a third (27 percent) already use or plan to use cloud/SaaS options to augment their BI capabilities for specific lines of business or subject areas in the next 12 months"- Gartner, Jan 2012.
Further, we will discuss on the salient points that is facilitating the adoption of on-demand BI tools like Zoho Reports for business intelligence needs.
Simplicity and Ease of Use
On-demand BI tools when done right, are simple and easy to use because of the following factors:
- Web Interface: On-demand BI tools like Zoho Reports offer a universal web browser based interface, which is very familiar and shortens the learning cycle. Moreover, Zoho Reports offers a 'spreadsheet-like' interface for data manipulation and reporting, which makes it all the more easy for users to adopt it.
- Accessibility: Accessible on the Web from anywhere and anytime.
- No Setup: On-demand BI tools are ready to use right away, no complex setup tasks required as in traditional BI tools.
- Skill set: No special skill set required like knowledge of databases, ETL, OLAP, reporting etc. You just need to know your business.
- Easy to Buy: Monthly subscription based. You can unsubscribe anytime, when there is no need (and subscribe back, whenever the need arises again).
Collaborative Analytics and Reporting
Traditional in-premises BI tools are not naturally built for collaborative analysis and reporting. To collaborate, you have to mail either your reports or spreadsheets and engage in discussions over mail threads. This creates duplication of reports/data, conflicting modifications resulting in synchronization problems, and long cycles for convergence.
SaaS BI tools are built on the ground-up to facilitate collaboration. You can easily share reports (not through email but online), and data to other users in your system with proper credentials. They can access the reports/data, do modifications or provide comments. Moreover, everyone works on the same data set/reports, thereby removing the possibility of duplication or conflicting modifications.
You can also revoke the sharing permissions anytime, thereby restricting a user the rights to access a report or data, who no longer requires access to it. This enables you to enforce data security.
Accessibility from anywhere also lends itself for better collaboration, particularly when more of your workforce either are mobile in nature, or work in a distributed work setup (working from home, different regions/countries etc.)
These features offered by on-demand BI tools like Zoho Reports, enable true collaborative analytics and reporting possible, thereby driving higher productivity.
Wide Range of Publishing Options
In-premises BI tools provide you restricted publishing options, typically exporting into different file formats like PDF, Doc etc. On-demand BI tools apart from covering these basic publishing options also offer capabilities to embed all your reports anywhere (in your blogs, web pages, Microsoft SharePoint server, intranet etc.) as live widgets. The embedded reports are interactive, always live, up-to-date and serve the same version to everyone without duplication.
These embedding options also open up possibilities to create live mashups, which can collate data and reports from different sources to create cool dashboard views appropriate to your business needs.
No Setup, No Maintenance
On-demand BI tools do not require setting up of servers and making complex configurations to make it work. They do not require you to configure complex OLAP servers and ETL settings which are part of most traditional BI tools. Also, you do not need to know any black-magic to achieve performance and spend effort on the continued maintenance of the BI tools, which includes handling upgrades, patch updates, securing your servers, having your system always accessible etc.
All you need is to just sign-in to the BI service, upload or setup the necessary data sources and start analyzing your data. Your focus is on arriving at the necessary business insights, either individually or collaboratively, which would directly benefit and complement your business operations. Focus becomes purely over business analytics and not on setup or maintenance worries.
On-demand BI tools offer the following cost advantages :
- Pay as you use vs Pay Upfront. Affordable monthly subscription model compared to thousands of dollars for in-premises BI tools. Zoho Reports even offers a liberal free edition ($0) to take care of most of your basic requirements
- Unsubscribe anytime when you do not require further usage
- No Hardware Cost. Accessible with just a browser from anywhere.
- No Maintenance Cost. No software installation required in any machine
Quick Feedback Loop
In packaged or in-premises BI tools, measuring the actual usability and adoption of the product is a tough task for the vendor. It is typically done through any of the following means:
- Periodic surveys
- Customer on-site meetings
- Feedbacks percolating from customer support
Common problems inherent to the above model are:
- Intensive on effort and time
- Percentage of customers providing real feedback are marginal
- Inertia to raise issues by customers, as they are mostly busy with their business activities
- Cost involved for the vendor for such feedback collection
Because of the above mentioned problems, usability issues, data on user adoption of features and commonly faced issues cannot be identified immediately by the vendor and addressed on priority. Sometimes the issues even get ignored too. Customers suffer due to this, as there is no easy feedback loop to easily measure their usage, identify the pain points/issues and address them in the product.
On the other hand, on-demand BI tools being hosted in the vendor's servers, naturally provide a quick feedback loop for the vendor. Monitoring the hosted servers periodically, a vendor can easily identify the following :
- Most used features across their customers
- Error prone features
- Usability pain points
- Performance of the system
All these activities do not require any voluntary involvement of the customers. This is typically done by monitoring the activities across users in a general way, rather than specially monitoring any specific user activity, thus not compromising on the privacy of any customer data.
Monitoring and identifying these feedback helps the vendors to easily address these problems, according the right priority. This helps in the continuous improvement of the service thereby enhancing the customer experience. You as a customer stand to gain because of this 'Quick Feedback Loop'. This 'Quick Feedback Loop' is a practice that we follow religiously in Zoho Reports to continually keep improving our service and customer experience.
Having read about some of the prominent benefits of on-demand BI tools against traditional in-premises tools, you might also be interested to read the following: