BI Predictions for 2015 (4 of 4):

Cloud BI Opens the Field to Smaller & Smaller Organizations

Over the past year or two the number of software as a service business intelligence tools has exploded.  Some, like Microstrategy Cloud and Tableau Online, are offered as a repackaging of traditional BI tools.  Others, like Domo, Statwing, and DataHero, are new tools built specifically for the web.

These tools generally require you to upload your data to the web.  You can then design and interact with your analyses.  Generally, your vendor will save you from the hassles of software maintenance and upgrades.  Short term costs will likely be lower than the cost of purchasing hardware and software although, over the course of a few years the two models cross and hosted BI becomes more expensive.

Web-based BI tools do differ in some significant ways.  Of course, user interfaces and capabilities are different but, data requirements also differ significantly.  Some tools accept little more than single table csv files and, thus, require you to de-normalize your data into that single table before you upload it.  Consider these to be like Excel on steroids – you can do a lot of cool stuff, as long as you can fit your data into one spreadsheet.  These, sometimes, make great solutions at the departmental level, where data is not as complex.

Other tools allow / require (select the verb of your choice) you to design and populate your own star schema data models.  Thus, you get more power and flexibility, but you also need data modeling expertise, ETL expertise, etc.  These kinds of tools really require the resources of an enterprise IT organization and therefore, aren’t great departmental solutions.

One other way in which these tools differ is in licensing models.  For example, some vendors still charge astronomical fees if you plan to serve data up to people outside of your organization.  Others don’t care, simply charging a per-user license fee.

In any case, the number of web-based BI tools grows daily.  With the advantages that they offer, it’s clear that they will appeal to an ever-growing market of smaller and smaller organizations.

RECOMMENDATION: In the long term, I believe that much of our current IT infrastructure will be outsourced.  If you’re already heading in this direction, hosted BI could be for you.  Hosted BI also works if you need a strong departmental solution for data that must be analyzed but isn’t interesting enough for the corporate data warehouse.  For example, the marketing department of one of our clients would like to analyze the results of customer interactions with their web site.  This data likely won’t find its way to their corporate data warehouse so the department is considering analyzing it in a web-based BI tool.

PROVISO: As with most things in IT, please, Please, PLEASE test the tool before committing.  Every software vendor manages to make their tool look good in a demo.  Make sure, however, that you’re not purchasing a pig with lipstick – try out your candidate tool with your data and make sure it really does what you need and that your users can figure it out.

PROVISO 2: We have a client that encountered a situation where their web BI vendor, who was great at BI tools, wasn’t great with managing web-centric data centers.  As a result, this client ran into huge performance issues and didn’t have a clean way out of the problem.  Having seen this situation, I would recommend testing performance with production sized data sets before signing agreements and getting performance guarantees in those agreements.

So, what do you think is going to happen in the world of business intelligence and data warehousing in 2015 and beyond?  Did I miss anything?  Add your comments below, feel free to email me at, and, of course, have a great holiday season!

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