Cloud-based BI and analytics systems start taking a firmer shape

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Despite functionality gains, use of cloud BI tools elevates slowly

Running business intelligence applications in the cloud has yet to take the BI world by storm. Researcher Howard Dresner offers insight on why and discusses the state of cloud BI software.

Cloud-based business intelligence has been a slowly simmering part of the BI market for more than 10 years, and researcher Howard Dresner says that doesn't appear to be changing significantly, despite the overall growth of cloud computing.

An annual survey on cloud BI usage conducted by Dresner's company, Dresner Advisory Services LLC, did find a small uptick in adoption this year. Thirty-one percent of the 383 respondents from user organizations said their companies are using cloud BI tools, up from 25% in 2016. But there was a nearly corresponding drop in the percentage of respondents saying they might deploy cloud-based BI technology in the future. Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents with no intention of going to the cloud for BI held steady at 38%, according to a recently published report on the survey.

The functionality of cloud BI software has "improved drastically" in recent years, said Dresner, who is founder, president and chief research officer at his namesake company. But migrating to the cloud doesn't necessarily give existing BI users new capabilities that they can't already get in on-premises products, he noted in an interview with SearchBusinessAnalytics on cloud BI tools and trends.

Excerpts from the interview follow, and cloud BI will be one of the topics discussed at the Real Business Intelligence Conference being held by Dresner Advisory Services at MIT in July.

This year's survey showed a small increase in the use of cloud-based BI and analytics tools compared to last year's survey, but the percentage of respondents saying they have no plans to use the cloud was essentially the same. So, is the overall adoption really growing?

Howard Dresner, Dresner Advisory ServicesHoward Dresner

Howard Dresner: It's slow. The percentage of 'nots' is decreasing, but it's gradual. This is not going to be an overnight thing, because it's disruptive -- it really changes things. [Cloud BI vendors] are chipping away at it, and there's certainly a greater comfort level with the cloud. But some functions are more comfortable with it than others, and IT is the one really dragging its feet.

In the new survey, software as a service and cloud computing, again, ranked in the middle of the pack among 33 strategic BI priorities. What do you make of that?

Dresner: The things that are most important to people are things they're already doing. Dashboards and reports are still super important. That's one of the dirty little secrets of business intelligence: People still focus on reporting and dashboards and data warehousing. Cloud, by comparison, isn't a barnburner. I'm an advocate of cloud, but that said, it's a deployment option. If I'm doing BI today and I move to the public cloud, does that improve my ability to analyze data? Not really. There are definitely benefits, but for the average user, honestly, their life doesn't change [because of the cloud]. The functionality is the same.

Security is still the biggest barrier to the adoption of cloud BI tools, according to the survey. Yet we hear a lot of talk that cloud platform vendors offer stronger data security protections than most organizations have internally. Is that not the case, or do a lot of user organizations still not buy it?

Dresner: The interesting dichotomy is that many [users] claim that security is the biggest reason why they're not going to the cloud, but then they don't know about the security capabilities of different vendors. I don't think it needs to be a barrier. The organizations that have educated themselves are more comfortable with security in the cloud. Sometimes, other people hide behind security and privacy because the real issue is loss of control [of their BI systems].

Most vendors have a pure web-based environment. And that's how it needs to be.

Looking at the technology, how do cloud BI tools compare with on-premises ones on functionality? Are they equivalent at this point?

Dresner: It's the 80-20 rule -- the 80% of the functionality that most users want is there. Advanced analytics, not so much, but that's not what most people are looking to do. For the more prevalent things, like reporting and dashboards, I think it's basically 1-to-1 between on-premises and cloud BI tools.

Are there any differences on scalability, either in the size or type of analytics applications that cloud BI tools can handle?

Dresner: One of the key questions for a user is whether your [cloud BI] software is Multi-tenant or has to run on a single instance. That can have a big impact on scalability. A lot of vendors claim they support the cloud, but then they set you up with a single instance. Being multi-tenant, they have to focus on greater efficiencies than if they're single tenant.

Are all of the big on-premises BI vendors on board with cloud BI?

Dresner: They had to do it; they've been forced into the transition. It's a challenge for them. And also to move to subscription-based pricing, that's definitely a profound shift. There are still [cloud BI] products out there that require a desktop client to manage the environment, but most vendors have a pure web-based environment. And that's how it needs to be.

What advice do you have for user organizations considering a cloud BI deployment on how to plan it and choose the right tools?

Dresner: You have to be careful. Scrutinize the technology, but also the use case. That's true of anything, of course. But tell me what the use case is -- keeping in mind that the cloud is really a deployment option and you might not get any new functionality. The cloud has lots of benefits, but it does represent a significant shift.

Next Steps

See an earlier Q&A with Howard Dresner on adoption of cloud BI tools

Consultant Wayne Eckerson on running BI applications in the cloud

ServiceChannel reduced reliance on IT with a cloud-based BI system

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