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SaaS business intelligence (BI) software, technology and market guide

Get up to speed on SaaS business intelligence software and technology, plus learn about recent developments in the SaaS BI and BI on demand market.

Software as a Service (SaaS) business intelligence (BI) software isn’t as new of a technology as some people may think. And with IT budgets still getting tighter and tighter at many organizations, the time might be right for more companies to consider turning to SaaS BI tools as an alternate BI deployment method. But is SaaS BI software really less expensive than traditional on-premise BI suites, and does SaaS BI offer any advantages and benefits that on-premise BI platforms don’t? What are the risks of SaaS BI, and where is the SaaS BI market heading? You can find the answers to these questions and more in our SaaS BI software, technology and market guide.

In this special report, you’ll find a roundup of some of the latest SaaS BI news, developments and market trends. Each section links to detailed news stories full of insights from industry analysts and experienced users, best-practices advice and tips, and case studies to help you navigate the changing SaaS business intelligence software market.

Table of Contents:

* Is SaaS business intelligence technology shedding its Rodney Dangerfield image?
* New SaaS business intelligence software suite from SAP built ‘for the rest of us’
* SaaS business intelligence vendor Birst takes on SaaS BI data security fears
* SaaS business intelligence software still has mountains to climb in the BI market
* IT Darwinism: Data integration for SaaS business intelligence software evolves

Is SaaS business intelligence technology shedding its Rodney Dangerfield image?
Despite what many prospective users might think, SaaS BI isn’t a new business intelligence technology. In fact, SaaS BI software has been around for years. Many BI and data management professionals just may not have taken it seriously or even known that it was available, because SaaS BI offerings from the top BI vendors have been less than spectacular over the years.

[BI] technology is a pure commodity.

Mark Madsen, Third Nature consultant

"If … BI SaaS options from large vendors seem skimpy, your impression is correct," Boris Evelson, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, wrote in a recent blog post. "That's precisely why there's a plethora of small BI vendors addressing the need and the opportunity in the market left largely unaddressed by the mainstream BI vendors."

But now, some of those vendors are hoping that SaaS BI is finally ready to shed its Rodney Dangerfield image. That isn’t because of lower costs – customers using SaaS BI tools can expect to pay about the same amount overall as their peers using traditional BI platform suites, according to Sandy Steier, co-founder and vice president of SaaS BI vendor 1010data. The difference between the two approaches, he said, is in the service aspect of SaaS.

That may not just be vendor hot air. "[BI] technology is a pure commodity," said Mark Madsen, a consultant with Third Nature who has worked on numerous BI deployments. And in a world where there is little difference between vendors in terms of BI platform functionality, service could prove to be the tiebreaker in software evaluations. So that’s where 1010data, Kognitio and other SaaS BI vendors are trying to set themselves apart.

An added bonus of SaaS BI is that unlike on traditional BI projects in which large sums are invested upfront, companies can walk away from a failed SaaS BI deployment without losing a ton of money. SaaS BI certainly isn’t without its drawbacks, however – including the need to send sensitive corporate data outside of the firewall to a third party and the risk of downtime because of reliance on the Internet.

New SaaS business intelligence software suite from SAP built for ‘the rest of us’
In late February, SAP released a SaaS business intelligence software suite that it said was designed to give BI tool capabilities to the casual BI user – a.k.a. “the rest of us,” as SAP put it. But does the SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand technology live up to that promise?

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The new SaaS BI suite has a simple user interface, the ability to integrate data from several sources and an economical subscription pricing model, claimed Marge Breya, an executive vice president at SAP. But according to Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson, SAP’s SaaS BI software “is not a panacea for BI for the masses.” Evelson said that using SaaS BI technology to extend BI capabilities throughout an organization has two major drawbacks: integrating large volumes of data from the cloud creates latency issues, and it can be more difficult for IT departments to control and maintain the data.

SAP countered Evelson’s assertion by saying it has built in management tools that enable IT staffers to keep a watchful eye over their company’s data. Evelson did say that he thinks user demand for SaaS BI tools is growing, and SAP hopes its status as a BI market leader and its ability to be a one-stop shop for on-premise and on-demand software will help it overtake the start-ups that currently are leading the way on SaaS BI.

SaaS business intelligence vendor Birst takes on SaaS BI data security fears
Ask any IT department about its greatest fear of using SaaS business intelligence technology, and the answer you’ll probably hear is “storing data in the cloud” – the key feature that SaaS BI vendors base their business on. Whenever a company talks about moving sensitive data beyond the corporate firewall, ears are bound to perk up and alarms are likely to sound within IT.

SaaS BI vendor Birst tried to tackle that concern head-on when it released a software upgrade in November 2009. A new feature in Birst 4, called Live Access, eliminates the need to for customers to upload data to the cloud; instead, users can leave their data in an internal database and stream it to Birst’s analytical tools.

Jeffrey Kaplan, an analyst at Thinkstrategies Inc. in Wellesley, Mass., said Live Access is the most important addition in Birst 4, allowing Birst customers to use the vendor’s SaaS BI applications "without having to risk moving their corporate data to the cloud."

Many IT managers continue to block SaaS BI deployments, said Cindi Howson, a BI consultant and founder of the technology evaluation website But the data security issue "is more of a perception problem than reality," she added. "I don't think IT should be as concerned about it as they might be."

SaaS business intelligence software still has mountains to climb in the BI market
Although the potential benefits of SaaS business intelligence software and technology are widely acknowledged, SaaS BI vendors still have some major obstacles to overcome if they want to compete with on-premise software from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. And storing sensitive corporate data outside the firewall isn’t the only concern SaaS BI vendors are facing.

SaaS BI software is still somewhat lacking when it comes to integrating data from multiple databases and applications, according to industry analysts. Low recognition in the BI marketplace is another issue that SaaS BI vendors need to battle."[SaaS BI is] still an emerging market," BI consultant Cindi Howson said, while advising prospective users to evaluate the business viability of SaaS BI vendors before buying their technology.

SaaS BI’s image took a hit in June 2009, when LucidEra, a four-year-old SaaS BI software vendor, went out of business. David Cunningham, who was vice president of marketing at LucidEra, said the company shut down because of a lack of funding, not a lack of interest in its BI offerings. Industry analysts generally agreed, saying that LucidEra’s focus on packaged BI applications for users was too narrow a market niche upon which to build a viable business. The LucidEra shutdown caused a scramble among other SaaS BI vendors to pick up orphaned customers. Vendors such as Birst, PivotLink and GoodData began offering deals to former LucidEra users, such as free access to their applications for up to six months.

But according to Boris Evelson of Forrester Research and other analysts, customers who find themselves in a similar position – or who are looking into SaaS BI technology – might want to rethink their BI strategy before handing over their data to a SaaS BI vendor. SaaS BI technology is ideal for small companies whose corporate data already resides in the cloud, Evelson said. But on-premise BI suites may now be a better fit for companies whose dashboard and scorecard strategies have evolved, he added.

IT Darwinism: Data integration for SaaS business intelligence software evolves
The difficulty of integrating data from multiple source databases and applications has been one of the biggest complaints about SaaS business intelligence software since its inception. Larger enterprises in particular have shied away from SaaS BI. Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson said their reticence is partly due to the fact that SaaS BI isn’t ideal for environments with a variety of data sources, including homegrown or heavily customized applications – which most large organizations and even many medium-sized businesses have in their IT infrastructures.

You should be able to do what you do behind the firewall in SaaS.

Brad Peters, CEO, Birst

Still, steps are being taken to fix the integration problem; not just by SaaS BI vendors but by data integration vendors as well. Last fall, for example, SaaS BI vendor PivotLink partnered with cloud-based data integration specialist Boomi, enabling PivotLink customers to integrate data from more than 70 sources via Boomi's AtomSphere application. The newly supported sources include ERP applications from SAP, Oracle and NetSuite, as well as Oracle’s Siebel CRM software and PeopleSoft human resources management apps.

Some SaaS BI software vendors are looking to solve the integration problems internally. For example, SaaS BI vendor Birst developed an extract, transform and load (ETL) service that lives in the cloud and can integrate data from virtually any source, according to CEO Brad Peters. "You should be able to do what you do behind the firewall in SaaS," he claimed.

However, not every SaaS BI vendor has sophisticated integration capabilities yet. So, analysts cautioned, companies that are thinking about going with SaaS BI should make sure the software they’re evaluating can handle the specific integration tasks at hand.

  • Learn more about how data integration is evolving for SaaS BI and what questions you should ask SaaS BI vendors so you can determine whether their integration capabilities will meet your business needs.


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