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Cloud Computing Enables Self-serve BI

by Mark Cunningham, http://www.indicee.comWednesday, March 17, 2010

If you are the average Internet user, you probably think the term “cloud” refers to weather.   But every time you use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linked-In or Flickr you are "living in the cloud?” Cloud computing is the next stage in the Internet's evolution, providing the means through which everything — from computing power and infrastructure, applications and business processes to personal collaboration — can be delivered to you as a pay-per-use service, wherever and whenever you need. Momentum for cloud computing is building and it is on the verge of a tipping point. Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of the tipping point is defined as "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable." Interestingly, it is the consumer market that has driven cloud computing to this tipping point but the corporate world has shifted into position to drive the next phase of cloud growth. 

 Amazon Changes the Game

Amazon is the ultimate consumer company, making something as simple as buying a book, a customized and easy customer experience. Amazon has applied their deep consumer knowledge to cloud computing. After years of designing and developing their own platform for Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos took this knowledge and intellectual property and spun it into a new business, now leading the charge in cloud computing platforms. Platforms like Amazon’s are known as "infrastructure as a service,” providing businesses with extremely cost effective alternatives to traditional IT models. Other platforms gaining traction include Microsoft's Azure, but Amazon enjoyed a strong head start. Cloud platforms like Amazon’s allow software vendors to launch new applications at break-neck speed, paying only for what they need, by the hour. This model is revolutionizing the IT world and the up-time guarantees in the cloud are better than most internal IT organizations can offer. The interconnecting and scaling services hosted in the cloud enable IT professionals and other software vendors to link applications in endless creative and unique ways, enabling “web mashups.”

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

The cloud is cheap, some would even say ‘dirt cheap’ and it allows a business to off-load all the ugly computing tasks which have overwhelmed IT departments for years, from both a cost and resources perspective. Cloud computing allows a business to pay for computing power, based on actual usage, at a rate of 10 cents an hour. The recent global financial crisis has changed the way we think about our economy. Consumers and organizations are actively seeking simple and lower cost alternatives to just about everything. Using the cloud allows businesses to prototype and launch new initiatives faster and at a price point that is unmatched. A user can create a simple software as a service application, build a prototype in a day, create an account on Amazon Web Services, and make the application available to consumers in minutes.  Furthermore, a Twitter feed can produce a thousand instant alpha users. No sales people, no marketing, only the cloud and a social network.

People Drive Change

Cheap and easy is critical but ultimately it is people that drive change. The popularity of cloud computing is due in part to a whole generation of users who have been chatting, texting, tweeting, and facebooking since they could walk. Online collaboration and public content sharing is the norm for these users and the cloud is part of their DNA.

But cloud use is also growing because of the many users in organizations who have been forced to endure cumbersome enterprise software applications, ridiculous IT policies, and limited visibility into disparate business data. These are the people who have been exposed to consumer applications like Facebook and Flickr and now expect their business software to be as easy to use.

Ultimately, the most exciting change-driver is IT. Old school IT is starting to change and will be the biggest adopter of cloud in the enterprise. IT is finally realizing the suitable role of  enabling business success and results, rather than maintaining systems, fighting fires and ensuring job security. IT managers seem to agree on the need to find the best technology to address their business issues in the most cost effective way possible, whether it be in the cloud or on-premise.  Cloud technology removes the need for physical hardware and infrastructure security requirements, which allows IT to devote more resources to higher priorities tasks that will improve productivity gains.  Moreover, IT is realizing that the need to listen closely to the knowledge of workers at the frontline of an organization, who are demanding simpler, easier and more collaborative applications.  Cloud computing addresses all of these issues which explains the massive adoption of cloud applications like Saleforce.com, Google, Amazon and many others.

The Cloud meets Self-serve BI

The cloud will have a huge impact on business intelligence over the next few years and is fueling the growth in self-serve BI.  Demand for simple, cost effective self-serve BI is not new. Crystal Reports was originally envisioned as an out of the box, easy to use application for every user in an organization. But business intelligence like Crystal Reports has never really reached the ‘Promised Land’. Only 20% of people in an enterprise organization use business intelligence, mostly because it just isn’t that accessible to an average user.

True self-serve BI should allow a user to search for and locate a solution online, access and load their own data, create their own reports and dashboards, and invite, share and collaborate with other users. Ideally, it also means they can research and buy a BI application online without the assistance of a sales person.
Can the self-serve barrier finally be broken? The cloud is the best thing to happen to BI, making it possible for users to find, try, buy, analyze, share, collaborate, and learn.

About the author:

Mark Cunningham, CEO & President at Indicee

Mark is a thought leader and passionate entrepreneur, committed to using technology for good, not evil. Over the years, he’s had to create (and deliver) countless data-driven spreadsheets, reports and presentations and is deeply familiar with the pains of pulling together and analyzing business data. That’s what initially motivated his family business, The Cunningham Group, to begin building the world’s first Windows-based reporting tool, Crystal Reports in 1991. Crystal was acquired by Seagate Software and Mark went on to launch several new ventures, including Symmetrics, a producer of contact center productivity software, where he is now chairman, and the Symmetrics Pro Cycling Team, once North and South America’s top-ranked cycling squad. Along the way, he’s built an enviable customer list that includes Nike, Pfizer, Xerox, Microsoft, Veritas, Nortel and the U.S. Postal Service.

When he’s not working, Mark is a competitive cyclist, surfer and kite surfer. He has completed the Hawaii Ironman twice, and has been known to take the post position while racing with his cycling team. Mark is an avid pilot and flies both a Cessna 185 and Turbine Beaver to remote destinations in the British Columbia back country.

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