SaaS has taken off in a big way in the past few years. And BI has not been lagging behind. For leading vendors like BOBJ (an SAP company) or Cognos (an IBM company), it’s going to be close to 2 years now since they started their SaaS BI.
What exactly are the advantages of SaaS over the traditional approach?
Benefits are aplenty, from zero costs of purchasing hardware, hiring of key IT personnel like system administrators and DBAs, to minimal implementation and maintenance costs. With CRM being made affordable to SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) by salesforce.com (note the huge success of its AppExchange), and the fact that large enterprise adoption of BI was complete, meant that the only scope for future growth in BI would come from upgrades of platforms (analogous to Microsoft’s Windows operating system – think of BOBJ upgrading from 6.5 to XI) or from expansion in the SME space with better offerings.
In fact, with Google distributing its Apps, Serena jumping on to the bandwagon with its project and portfolio management (PPM) software, and even Tata Consultancy Services launching its own ITaaS (IT as a service), SaaS is almost confirmed to be the software delivery model of the future.
The marginal cost of acquiring SME customers is reduced due to the nature of the SaaS service, and this has encouraged more and more BI companies to venture into exploring this delivery model for BI. There are niche players well entrenched in this SaaS BI space: LucidEra, Oco, Information Builders and PivotLink – and a few of them provide the entire range of BI – including ETL and not limited only to reporting. But now the bigger fish have also ventured into this space. Going by the success of BOBJ’s crystalreports.com or its Information OnDemand (a project which biguru was involved in developing) and IBM Cognos Now!, there seems no doubt over the future direction that BI delivery is headed. Did I mention almost all of these can work together with Salesforce?
As much as SaaS BI is redefining delivery mechanisms from the perspective of the vendors, it also involves a paradigm shift for the customers. Finally, it is less a question of technology, than it is about the benefits to the business, the ROI and focusing on the core competency of the enterprise. In a sense, SaaS ‘outsources’ all of the IT to the vendor, leaving business to deal with issues like implementation and managing requirements. It is also a pointer to the maturing of the industry – from discovering requirements to providing relevant information and insight.
The technology implications for the vendors are daunting. For once, they need to expand in domains outside their core areas, from maintaining data centers to ensuring bug-free roll-outs, even though they’ll also have the luxury of not having to maintain multiple version stacks. On the web, users become far more demanding, and are far less willing to break their heads while figuring out why something won’t work due to a missing dll or patch etc.
With BI getting more business-process centric, SAP is now focused on embedding BI capabilities in its range of offerings. Business Objects is currently tinkering with TAWS (Take Action as a Web Service) in its Labs, which would allow its dashboards to use web services to plug into the service-oriented-application-architecture. With respect to hot-plugging into the SOA architecture of BI, however, Oracle has made great strides and even IBM Cognos is better placed.
The future of SaaS BI and enterprise BI SOA seems interesting indeed.