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The past few weeks have been big ones for analytics and business intelligence vendors moving to the cloud, with new product or partnership announcements from Oracle, SAP, IBM's Watson group and even Salesforce.com. So is now the right time for businesses to start thinking about doing analytics and BI in the cloud?
"People are starting to get through what's novel and are seeing that it actually works," said Howard Dresner, founder and chief research officer at consultancy Dresner Advisory Services LLC in Nashua, N.H. "There are cost advantages, you don't have to have the same staffing levels [and] you can include a whole host of users."
Dresner reported in his Wisdom of Crowds Cloud Business Intelligence Market study that the number of businesses using a cloud BI system increased 17% since 2013.
Now vendors are looking to capitalize on this increased interest in cloud BI and analytics. IBM unveiled a host of cloud-based third-party applications developed by outside vendors that run on its much-touted but still-underutilized Watson platform. The new applications include a retail customer service tool, software designed to help restaurants discover sources of customer dissatisfaction and a service that aims to help non-profit groups identify sound investment opportunities. All are available as subscription services through IBM.
SAP announced that it is partnering with BI company Birst Inc., which will deliver its cloud-based BI software on SAP's HANA platform. SAP officials acknowledged that SAP already has its own BusinessObjects line of BI applications, but they said the new partnership is intended to enable SAP to position HANA as more of a general technology platform that can support applications in the cloud, regardless of who produces them.
Oracle also made news by announcing its Analytics Cloud platform, which hosts a collection of pre-built analytic applications that can tie into remote and cloud databases and give users mobile access.
Time to speak up on BI in the cloud
Brad Peters, chairman and chief product officer at Birst, said it's no coincidence that the two companies are teaming up on cloud offerings at the same time as other vendors release cloud products.
"The world is going to the cloud," he said. "IBM is going big into Watson in the cloud. It makes sense to have our own commentary about it. The timing was natural."
Perhaps the biggest cloud announcement came from Salesforce, maker of the market-leading cloud CRM technology. Its new cloud analytics offering, called Wave, is aimed at marketing and sales employees and is primarily designed to enable data exploration by allowing end users to develop custom reports and graphs, mainly on mobile devices.
Anna Rosenman, a director of product marketing at Salesforce, said there is a need for sales and marketing workers to be able to find their own insights in data without waiting on IT to develop reports for them. "There's no risk in exploring in one direction or another," she said. "There's no need for it to take three weeks."
Is there strength in numbers for cloud vendors?
Dresner thinks the Salesforce announcement in particular will be a boon to cloud BI and analytics vendors in general. Far from taking business away from existing players, he said, Salesforce's entry into the market proves that they've been on the right track all along.
"For the cloud vendors, this is a huge validation of their strategy," Dresner said. "It's an endorsement of the cloud platform."
Overall, he sees the collection of analytics and BI in the cloud announcements growing the market for such technologies. But before that happens, a few issues will need to be ironed out. First, businesses will need to better organize and de-silo their data infrastructures. Second, the IT department, which has traditionally been a holdout against cloud technology, will need to get on board.
"IT needs to be working in the cloud with the line of business to support them and do it in the context of a broader strategy," Dresner said.
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