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Expansion Of SaaS-Based BI Solutions

by Lyndsay WiseWednesday, September 30, 2009

The popularity of Software as a Service (SaaS) for business intelligence (BI) cannot be overlooked.  With organizations using on-demand solutions for ERP, CRM, sales and HR functions, the comfort level with adopting SaaS for additional applications is on the rise.  As businesses learn about the benefits of SaaS, they become more willing to consider on-demand solutions as part of their regular software evaluations.  Software as a Service-based BI and analytics solutions are gaining momentum because of this increased awareness as well as due to the ease of deployment and the lack of on-site maintenance.
                           
This article explores the expansion of BI applications delivered as a service within mainstream business intelligence.  Not only are the types of solutions available expanding, but the opportunities for organizations to access BI quickly and efficiently is also growing.

Salesforce.com and operational on-demand solutions are the impetus of SaaS expansion

It has been estimated that about 16% of companies deploying ERP use a Software as a Service model.  This means that many businesses are familiar with the way on-demand solutions work.  Add to this the popularity of Salesforce.com and the ability to embed additional solutions on top of Salesforce to provide additional insights into an organization’s sales initiatives, and the use of SaaS becomes broader.  With this expansion of use it would stand to reason that many would consider SaaS solutions as part of their regular software evaluations.  This, however, is the case only for organizations that are aware of what options are available.

Until recently, many organizations were unaware of the availability of mainstream BI solutions using a SaaS platform.  And companies that understood how these solutions worked spent their time worried about security issues and the risks of data sharing.  As the implementation of SaaS becomes more mature, the issues surrounding security and the like lessen.  Now that businesses are past questioning the integrity of the on-demand model and now that many use cases exist, the question of SaaS turns to whether the right organizations are tuned in to what SaaS is and to the benefits its deployment can offer those with limited resources and short-term business goals.

Although Salesforce and solutions like it have done much to educate customers about the idea of having data hosted externally to the organization and accessed online, the reality is that many business decision makers may be unaware of the technology that exists in order to make their jobs easier.  Solution providers such as InetSoft, PivotLink, Birst and Panorama are examples of solution providers that offer varied solutions within business intelligence for organizations looking for more insight into their performance using a SaaS-based model.  In terms of overall awareness, however, the education process of what each solution has to offer and how these solutions compare with mainstream BI offerings is limited for most companies at best.  In a sense, this lack of awareness is the biggest inhibitor to SaaS adoption.

Using Birst’s solution offering as an example

Once organizations understand how on-demand solutions work, they are more likely to look at these products in the same vein as their on-premise counterparts.  Brad Peters, CEO of Birst, states that because of the breadth of their offering, their main competition are mainstream BI vendors such as QlikView, SAP (Business Objects) and IBM (Cognos), as opposed to other BI SaaS offerings, except when looking at their Salesforce.com customers.  Consequently, it stands to reason that this will continue to occur and expand to change the way organizations evaluate their BI solutions.

In addition, Birst’s value proposition reaches out to other on-demand solutions as well in terms of providing customers with a quick and easy implementation.  Because Birst is a full BI suite, they offer the same general features as their competition but do not require an internal infrastructure.  As with all on-demand solutions, this fact in addition to lower price points using a subscription model provides a strong case for the increasing use of on-demand BI and analytics within small and mid-sized companies as well as for departments that do not want to rely on IT.  With business units wanting more autonomy and flexibility, the ability to control data and provide insights for a constantly changing environment will increase the demand for both easy-to-use business oriented solutions and SaaS.

SaaS going mainstream

Overall, the awareness of SaaS-based BI is at a crossroads – with company’s deploying other on-demand solutions looking at SaaS in relation to their BI projects and organizations new to SaaS still trying to navigate through possible solutions as well as gaining general awareness.  The benefit to SaaS providers is that no barriers based on security or data issues still exist.  Many companies with sensitive data trust their data to SaaS providers and are satisfied with the services they receive.  In addition, more SaaS-based offerings are being embedded into other applications, making the use of SaaS an unknown portion of the application being accessed and used regularly.  What this means for organizations is that former barriers no longer exist.

On the other hand, many organizations that could potentially benefit from adopting SaaS remain unaware of what solutions are available and how they can get BI without investing large amounts of internal resources, time and money.  And this fact alone is the one challenge to BI SaaS solutions competing side by side with other mainstream offerings.

About the Author

Lyndsay Wise is an industry analyst for business intelligence. For over seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay is the channel expert for BI for the Mid-Market at B-eye-Network and conducts research of leading technologies, products and vendors in business intelligence, marketing performance management, master data management, and unstructured data. She can be reached at lwise@wiseanalytics.com. And please visit Lyndsay's blog at myblog.wiseanalytics.com.


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