A lot of business intelligence vendors are selling their cloud offerings, which seems like ‘heaven on earth’ to us. It’s cheaper, faster, more scalable and more reliable they say. But can true Business Intelligence be in the cloud? Can we draw parallels between water from the tap and Business Intelligence in the cloud?
What is true business intelligence?
In our view it’s running your business better using key information about your processes, your clients and the market. To be able to do that you should gather all kinds of data from a variety of source systems inside and outside your company network, integrate the data and transform it into information to produce insights in such a way that we can speak of ‘intelligence’. Each company has it’s own intelligence which can bring a real competitive advantage, allowing companies to swim in the profit pool.
What is a cloud?
A cloud is an infrastructure of hard- and software that can be used for a period of time. You may want to use more disk storage, give more users access to the applications or use more memory. Or maybe at some time you want to drop a group of users, which does not pose a problem with the cloud concept. With your applications in a cloud, it should be really simple to scale up or down. Often you only have to pay for the usage, which can be a real advantage.
There are various types of clouds including; the private cloud and the public cloud. In the public cloud every user uses the same Business Intelligence software solution, the same version and has the same standard indicators and reports. In this type of cloud there is often very little space for customization as it comes down to the data that can be stored, the transformations and the key performance indicators. If you want high customization for example you should extract data from a source system that other users in the cloud don’t have. This means you should move to a private cloud. In a private cloud, which is almost the same as buying a virtual or dedicated private server from your hosting partner, which we are all familiar with, some of the advantages of being in the cloud will disappear. In a private, highly customized cloud, scaling up isn’t that easy (compared to the scalability of a public cloud), whether it is deployed within the company’s firewall or hosted by a third party.
Tap water and BI in the cloud
Cloud solutions like Business Intelligence in the cloud are often compared to tap water, at least it is often visualized that way. The Business Intelligence vendors are marketing their offerings of Business Intelligence in the cloud as: just turn on the tap and ‘drink the intelligence’. Maybe it tastes good for a while, but what competitve advantage will this solution really bring to your company if your competitors can do exactly the same? In our view true business intelligence can’t really be in the public cloud. In addition, who likes the idea that someone else is managing their brain?
“The only way to make money in the Cloud is to have a lot of customers. The only way to get a lot of customers quickly is to give everyone the same configurable application and avoid custom development work. In the Cloud, economies of scale are everything. But Business Intelligence is largely a custom development effort.” Wayne Eckerson, BeyeNETWORK
Tap water is, on average, 500 times cheaper than bottled water, some people would say, boycot the bottle. Could we say the same about Business Intelligence in relation to the public cloud? Is it, on average, 500 times cheaper than having your own BI infrastructure? Even if that is true, we don’t think it’s wise to move your company specific intelligence to the public cloud, even if it is possible (there are some really nasty integration, security and compliancy issues to overcome). However, non-specific highly standardized indicators like the sickness rate could be in the public cloud as a data mart. However you may have to ask yourself if that is true business intelligence. So, don’t boycot the BI bottle!
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