Moving BI Into The Cloud Part 1

July 3, 2009
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Over the last year I have been reading a lot about cloud computing and trying to predict how this can be used in business intelligence and analytics. I believe that the cloud is becoming relevant for a number of reasons:

  • Customers – they’re all on the net already. If I want to reach them I need to be there too. It’s not just publishing information (web 1.0), it’s also social networking (web 2.0) that I need to tap into. If I know what people are talking about and what they are thinking (via Facebook, MySpace, twitter, etc.) then the thousands of emerging online analytic applications are going to be essential for me to use. The cloud puts me in a better position to integrate into 3rd party analytic applications in real time.
  • Speed – as the availability of adsl+ spreads, the speed of cloud based applications matches those installed on your own desktop or LAN. There is no performance cost of going into a cloud.
  • SAAS – I predict that analytic mash-ups are going to become a force in business intelligence. Thousands of analytic Saas applications are available today.  in Australia we now have local companies offering Saas analytic applications. Although the range of applications is still ..

Over the last year I have been reading a lot about cloud computing and trying to predict how this can be used in business intelligence and analytics. I believe that the cloud is becoming relevant for a number of reasons:

  • Customers – they’re all on the net already. If I want to reach them I need to be there too. It’s not just publishing information (web 1.0), it’s also social networking (web 2.0) that I need to tap into. If I know what people are talking about and what they are thinking (via Facebook, MySpace, twitter, etc.) then the thousands of emerging online analytic applications are going to be essential for me to use. The cloud puts me in a better position to integrate into 3rd party analytic applications in real time.
  • Speed – as the availability of adsl+ spreads, the speed of cloud based applications matches those installed on your own desktop or LAN. There is no performance cost of going into a cloud.
  • SAAS – I predict that analytic mash-ups are going to become a force in business intelligence. Thousands of analytic Saas applications are available today.  in Australia we now have local companies offering Saas analytic applications. Although the range of applications is still limited, with many big names missing, Telstra’s new T-Suite does give you access to: 
    • Microsoft Dynamics CRM (MDCRM)
    • Microsoft SharePoint – for virtual teams 
    • Microsoft Exchange Mail – email, calendars, contacts and task management 
    • Workforce Guardian Pro – contracts in-a-box 
    • WORKetc – a workflow/CRM application 
    • Telstra Remote Backup. 
  • Migration – companies such as Amazon Web Services (Amazon S3) offer effective ways to move large amounts of data into clouds and also to physically backup cloud data. In partnership with IBM, Amazon also provides the infrastructure for your cloud.
  • Reliability – Google mail going down makes the headlines worldwide – unlike outages to your own LAN or WAN. Ignore the publicity and you will see that most clouds have significantly better reliability. 
  • Security – this is an important one often given as a primary reason not to move to a cloud. My counter-argument is that customers are moving online with or without you. If you want to stay close to your customers then the cloud gets you there. Most organisations already provide internet ‘connections’ to reach customers, other businesses and their own staff. Is the cloud really that different? Aren’t you already very ‘exposed’ to the internet – and the associated security risks?
MDCRM has been available as a hosted app for some time now and MSFT list 17 companies worldwide that will host MDCRM for you. Presumably T-Suite is either cheaper or easier for SME’s to get up and running with.

So far I don’t see wide adoption of the cloud locally. Apart from the usual conservatism of Australian business, I think that the main reason is economics: the local offerings are expensive. Take an example of T-Suite: if a company wanted the following services:
  • CRM, SharePoint and Remote Backup for 50 staff
  • Email and calendar for 100 staff 
The cost of doing this on T-Suite would be 50 x (69.95 +35.95 + 18.00) + 100 x 16.95 = $7,890 per month. The minimum contract is 12 months, so the annual cost of your cloud is $94,680.

So if the local offerings are pricy, what about the big boys internationally? This is the Cloud after all, geography is irrelevant. What are the choices (actual and emerging)?
  • Salesforce.com – SFDC, the granddaddy of Saas. Not so much a single CRM application as an ecosystem of over 100,000 custom applications. They have moved strongly into the cloud (they call it Force.com) and are now emphasising real time analytic capabilities. They are also moving into social networking – you can monitor Twitter sentiment about your products and services. They don’t publish local pricing, but in the US the enterprise editions’ standard cost is US$125 per user/per month.
  • SugarCRM – the enterprise edition maximum cost is US$50 per user/per month.
  • Sage SalesLogix – from the SME accounting software people. 
  • Smart Market – just launched by IBM in the US is aimed at the SME market. Analytic related offerings include:
    • RJS Software Systems:
      • Batch Report Server
      • System i:
        • Report Splitter
        • Database Integrator (RPG2SQL)
        • iForms Electronic Forms and Business Intelligence
      • Email Report Server 
      • Enterprise Report Management Solution 
      • Enterprise Workflow 
      • RJS Report Converters (PDF, HTML, Excel, RTF/Word) 
      • Webspool 
    • Cincom:
      • Business Intelligence
      • Synchrony Express Contact Center 
    • C2CRM – from ClearC2, a web CRM 
    • ShopWorX Smart ERP 
    • Xperia Comprehensiv ERP 
    • OpenPro ERP
    • IBM:
      • Meta Data Modeler and Data Bridge for Lotus Notes  
      • WebDocs Document Management 
      • SOPRSANO – mobile messaging on the IBM Smart Cube 
    • Quickbooks (many editions) 
    • GEDSYS IntraWare Easy CRM – address and master data management.

For an idea of the analytic richness of the cloud, take a look at Salesforce.com’s enterprise capabilities:

  • Relational Database
  • Record and Field-level Security 
  • Data Loader 
  • SAP R/3 Conector 
  • Sharing Framework
  • Application Integration
  • Workflow Rules
  • Formulas
  • Email Alerts & Approvals
  • Search
  • Page Layout Editor
  • Reporting & Dashboards
  • Analytic Mash-ups 
  • Read-only Report Access 
  • Multi-currency
  • Multi-language
  • Force.com
  • IDE Visualforce
  • Offline Client

The list goes on and on. So it may be even more expensive than T-Suite but SFDC has so much more power they are really not comparable.

So what can you conclude?

I can’t speak for everyone but I’m ready to use the cloud professionally. I have privately been using Apple’s MobileMe for years. But professionally the cost of the big boy’s offerings drives me to open source and to take a best-of-breed approach where I look at specific online SAAS offerings – mostly niche players that offer specific analytic services and an API I can use to automatically exchange data and results with.

I think that I can build my own version of a cloud ecosystem to combine analytic capabilities in unique ways. I’m not alone in this and I hope to have news of a new analytic venture later this year.