The Traditional BI Marketplace:
The Traditional Business Intelligence (BI) market has come a long way since the term 'business intelligence' was first introduced into the corporate lexicon. Today, there is an endless array of products and services to help businesses with their BI projects – query and reporting software, dashboard analytics, data warehousing, ETL tools and consulting services, just to name a few. While all of these different products, vendors and their offerings provide marginal value differentiation, they all have something in common – they are tools for IT.
Since the progress over the past two and a half decades, business intelligence is still very much a complicated and costly proposition for most organizations. A typical BI project at a mid-sized enterprise requires years of hard work by IT and consultants before end-users are able to realize value. A recent Aberdeen research report cited that up to 40% of BI projects are abandoned before completion due to their cost and complexity. It also stated that of those business intelligence projects that are completed, 50% fail to meet end-users expectations, resulting in not only low end-user adoption.
End User Friendliness – Contrary to vendors' claim "BI tools are for everyone", business intelligence is still very much an IT centric endeavor. Traditional business intelligence tools exist primarily to help IT provide a limited set of hard-coded reports and metrics to business users. Want a new report? Ask IT. Want to see an existing report by a new dimension? Go to IT. Want to add a drill down to your graph? Add it to the IT queue. What is needed is self-service analytics that allows end-users to create and customize dashboards, reports and metrics, without IT help.
Purpose – Functional Alignment – Most traditional BI tools fail to integrate and align business needs with the BI functionality. Providing end users with actionable business analytics requires a huge amount of domain expertise. A manufacturing company, for example, has a tremendous amount of transaction data collected from purchase orders, sales orders and production planning systems. Knowing how to define important metrics and also where to get the data and present it to end users is incredibly challenging. Employing a 'general purpose analysis' BI tool and overlooking industry-specific need is a big error in judgment during investment decision. Also, the hard-coded architecture of the BI tools leaves no room for adaptation to different environments.
Foresight – The traditional BI tools tend to place too much emphasis on historical data. This 'Rear View Mirror' or 'Post Mortem' approach works fine for Sales Intelligence or Financial Intelligence but from operational standpoint, these tools are significantly lacking. When it comes to operational intelligence, it is real-time information, and not the after-the-fact analysis, which holds relevance as it enables the business user to take corrective action before the things get out of hand.
Cost – Traditional BI solutions require a tremendous amount of work and capital before providing value and are often times abandoned or unusable by business users due to their inherent complexity. This has made BI affordable only to big corporations which can afford to hire consultants, buy software tools, and build out BI infrastructure (and survive a potential failed BI project). Does that mean that mid-sized businesses can not hop on the BI bandwagon?
Is there an alternative to traditional BI tools?
The answer is "Yes". Web-based, cloud BI applications are a new paradigm in business intelligence. They deliver far greater ROI and faster time-to-value than traditional BI tools, offering end-users actionable information within hours of getting started. BI applications also significantly reduce the amount of complexity for IT, providing a pre-built BI infrastructure, dashboards reports, and analytics, without any hardware, software or services. BI applications enable business to focus their energies on analytics that lead to improved business performance, rather than business intelligence systems and processes.
In these times of economic hardships, Cloud BI comes as a welcome relief due to its low barriers to entry in terms of cost and effort. Cloud BI solutions often require zero up-front investments and provide value within days of deployment, instead of the 6+ months it takes with traditional BI solutions.