Cloud Analytics Surge in Popularity for SMBs

By | Jan 16, 2012

As virtualized and cloud technologies become a reality for even small and midsize businesses (SBMs) and electronic data recording quickly replaces pen-and-paper filing, IT managers are finding themselves on the hook for the administration of great business intelligence (BI) tools that not only collect relevant data but easily distribute it. Now, a new generation of cloud analytics is helping businesses not only capture data but making sure it's easy to understand.

Why The Cloud Matters

Conventional BI providers are able to offer companies on-site ways to record their data and display trends in a range of areas including customer retention, purchases, spending, and the impact of marketing campaigns. According to SearchDataManagement, cloud analytics offer SMBs the ability to do the same things--only better.

Current predictions have cloud-based analysis systems growing three times faster than on-premise options through to 2013--and there are a number of reasons for this. First, the costs of a BI system based in the cloud are often far lower up front and make sense for a one-time project that doesn't require the ongoing fees associated with an in-house BI program. Second, SMBs are realizing the value in storing as much data as possible and making that data available to the widest array of people in their organization. As a result, IT managers are often tasked with "making this happen," and a local solution may not have the power to push out all the numbers or allow the kind of always-on access that a cloud provider can supply.

Analyzing Challenges

But while cloud analytics are on the rise across the board, there are still a number of challenges for this new branch of BI. The first is making data collected not only useful, but visually appealing--a recent GigaOM article discusses the merger of ParAccel and Birst to develop a BI system that puts a "pretty face" on hard data. ParAccel is known for creating fast columnar databases while Birst is able to put slick graphical representations on top of hard numbers. While relevant and timely data is what's needed as the base of any cloud BI system, how it's presented to management and employees will ultimately determine its usefulness, and any cloud option must be able to collect and compute quickly and express trends in a way that's visually appealing.

Another issue faced by BI in the cloud is the relative novelty of the market. While the cost for an SMB to start their first BI venture will likely be less in the cloud that in-house, the cost to move an existing system into a virtual stream can be quite a bit more costly, often owing to the complexity of legacy programs. In addition, the amount of data requiring transfer to the cloud can sometimes be a sticking point, as in-house systems may be able to provide greater throughput and more immediate analysis than those managed by an outside provider.

Despite some growing pains, however, business intelligence is rapidly gaining ground in the cloud, especially among SMBs, as it offers ways to push analysis to more users at a reduced cost. For IT managers, the key lies in finding a solution that delivers the graphical punch end-users want, is also easily maintained and works well with existing infrastructure.

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