By David L. Morris, President and Chief Executive Officer of Blink Logic Inc., Blink Logic Inc.
The BI Scenario
What's Wrong With BI? - Traditional Business Intelligence (BI) vendors
are failing to give their customers an effective way to access and present data,
and yet BI is so important that companies continue to invest in it. The fundamental
question BI attempts to answer is how executives and managers can use information
to make insightful decisions and take profitable action. Unfortunately, many
of the BI platform vendors of the last 15 years introduced more problems than
they solved. As Nigel Pendse, the author of the seventh annual BI survey concludes,
"The reason BI implementations remain small and self-contained is that
large BI applications do not confer benefit concomitant with their cost
and complexity of management."
To the Rescue - Now a new generation of BI providers offers effective
solutions based on innovative web technologies and delivery models. With the
availability of high-quality, plug-and-play, SaaS-based solutions, companies
can recommit to their core competencies while IT outsources the applications
that, while mission-critical, do not have to be kept in house to provide competitive
SaaS is Ready? - The technology and services behind SaaS offerings are
now mature enough to support the delivery of a wide range of BI solutions. Security
infrastructure has advanced to the point that IT can be comfortable making data
available. In addition, BI is no longer limited to large-scale platforms but
can start small with pilot programs among an organization's power users and
then expand throughout the enterprise. Finally, a SaaS BI offering does not
require a company to dedicate its own resources to deploying, managing, and
supporting the application. Unlike in-house developed or traditional on-premise
BI solutions, SaaS-based product enhancements are always current and compatible
via web services, eliminating the effort, cost, and risk of both initial implementation
and ongoing maintenance.
Evaluating SaaS BI
Security - A good SaaS BI provider should be able to answer any question
and provide evidence of the steps it has taken to ensure the integrity of critical
data. Ascertain that the provider meets stringent SaS 70 Type 2 compliance requirements
and maintains an impenetrable facility, that the hosted software uses 128-bit
SSL when conducting data transactions, and that the application can integrate
with existing security protocols such as LDAP, creating access profiles and
granting privileges at the user or group level.
ROI - A SaaS provider should encourage you to create and measure against
a quantifiable business case for subscribing to SaaS BI. You should be able
to reasonably forecast within a defined range the economic impact of the relationship.
Potential metrics to track include time-to-market on deployment, user satisfaction,
development and support cost savings (including the ability to reallocate resources
to other areas), and the business impact of making better informed decisions.
References - It is vital that a SaaS BI vendor is dedicated to providing
great service and can give you references to satisfied customers. Speak not
only to peers in your own industry, but also to companies that have implementations
that are similar to yours in scope or objective. If your implementation has
certain characteristics such as complex data structures or stringent compliance
requirements, identify them and ask to speak to customers with similar challenges.
Service - Many providers that deliver SaaS solutions still emphasize
technology over service, which perhaps belies their beginnings as on-premise
software companies. Establish that a SaaS BI vendor is committed first and foremost
to service delivery, and that its Professional Services are designed to make
sure your BI projects reach their full potential. For example, will the vendor
provide a dedicated resource to provide as much of the design, creation, and
management of your BI system as you may need? The vendor's Professional Services
team should provide ongoing guidance and feedback to ensure your successful
utilization of BI. Make sure the SaaS BI vendor you are considering can demonstrate
extensive cross-industry and cross-functional data experience, industry best
practices, and report and visualization design expertise.
Expect the following from a SaaS BI vendor's Professional Services team during
Cube creation, population, and support, including facilitating discussions
with key stakeholders to create an optimal design;
Tailored reports and visualizations appropriate for your user community;
Quality checks on the cube, data mart, and data refresh service to ensure
accuracy, timeliness, and reliability;
Continuous support and frequent communications throughout the initial implementation
Milestones - SaaS BI vendors should commit to a milestone-driven implementation
designed to help you quickly realize value from your BI initiative. The selection
of a SaaS offering should eliminate any technology infrastructure requirements
and obstacles to getting a BI solution up and running.
It's All About Users - SaaS BI solutions should be highly competitive,
offering the latest and best in security, data access methods, interactivity,
and visualizations. Any BI service you choose to deploy, especially to non-technical
business users, should be easy-to-use, entirely self-service so users can change
what they want to see without calling the help desk, and offer collaboration
capabilities such as annotation as well as email and texting directly from the
Mutually Beneficial Terms - Make sure your SaaS BI vendor has a vested
interest in your success by structuring your relationship to be advantageous
to both parties. Most SaaS BI providers will offer a range of options, including
discounts based on the number of users or length of contractual commitment.
In addition, your SaaS BI vendor should offer a structured approach to ensuring
your success with dedicated account management (both on the business side and
on the technical side), support in building adoption among the user community,
options for priority technical support (for which you may pay a premium), and
flexible training whether in the classroom or online.
Implementing traditional BI applications historically has been a daunting undertaking
for even the largest development and support organizations, which typically
lack the necessary expertise and resources. A low-risk, high-return alternative
is SaaS-based BI, which enables an organization to effectively outsource the
delivery of best-in-class BI, allowing the reallocation of scarce internal resources
to core capabilities.
SaaS relieves IT of the burden of creating and maintaining a BI infrastructure;
the vendor does it all, taking advantage of existing information systems such
as databases, enterprise applications, and any existing business intelligence
Companies should look for SaaS BI vendors who deliver end-user self-sufficiency,
high-quality visualizations, and a high degree of interactivity to answer ever-changing
questions. This will increase user satisfaction and expedite adoption across
departments, ultimately ensuring not only the success of the BI project, but
also the highest level of effectiveness for decision-makers in your organization.
The best SaaS-based BI providers are dedicated to helping executives make quick
decisions based on immediate access to the right information in a system that
is simple to use and highly visual. The ideal SaaS BI solution is also flexible,
reflecting rapidly changing market challenges and opportunities.
Most importantly, BI-based decision-making has to deliver results; the organization
has to make continuous progress building revenue and pleasing customers. The
most effective SaaS BI solutions enable executives to access the system at anytime
from any Internet-enabled device and intuitively know how to get the information
they need. With SaaS BI, they can quickly see the results of their actions,
make adjustments, and improve decision-making and business performance now and
in the future.
About the Author
David L. Morris is the president and chief executive officer of Blink Logic Inc. In his 15-year investment banking and fund management career, David has actively advised and invested in numerous early stage technology companies. He has also held senior staff positions at several leading financial companies. For more information, visit www.blinklogic.com.