Finding Success with SaaS Business Intelligence

Untitled Document

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 differentiation.

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 deployment:

  • 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 and beyond.

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 application.

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.

Summary

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 technology.

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.

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