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by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: September 20, 2016


As more companies seek information and insight into their operations, the demand for business intelligence (BI) software is growing. A multitude of software products are now available to meet this demand. Many of these solutions are also cloud-based, offering the advantages of affordability, mobility and flexibility.

But is a cloud-based business intelligence system right for your business? This guide will help you answer that question. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Cloud BI?
Key Capabilities of Cloud BI Software
Benefits and Potential Issues

What Is Cloud BI?

Organizations today generate a staggering amount of data. BI software helps businesses gather data from disparate sources and collate that information into a single source. This single source acts as a historical data archive that allows businesses to make more informed predictions and decisions regarding future business operations.

What distinguishes cloud BI software from other business intelligence and analytics solutions is that it is hosted offsite, typically on the software vendor’s servers. Users access the system remotely through a network (i.e., the Internet).

Cloud-based software is commonly sold via subscription licensing, which means that businesses pay a recurring monthly or annual fee to use the software. This fee includes the cost for hosting, support, maintenance and automatic updates to the system.

Cloud-based hosting means that organizations don’t incur the costs of maintaining the software on their own internal servers. As a result, upfront costs for cloud-based software are generally lower than for on-premise—though over time the costs for subscription and perpetual licensing eventually converge.

Cloud BI systems can integrate with other software your organization is already using, including customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

Integrating BI software with these systems provides businesses with unique understanding on the scope of business operations, including:

  • Customer buying trends
  • The effectiveness of sales and marketing campaigns
  • Performance of staff
  • Market changes and demands

Analyzing data from a variety of sources using cloud BI tools can provide a wealth of insight on your customers, clients, sales, operations and more.

While capabilities vary, cloud BI software typically helps businesses gather, catalogue, store, analyze and interpret data from a variety of sources in order to make better business decisions.

Gather: Data can include internal data, i.e., within company departments or data from external sources, such as marketing, social or industry information.

Catalogue: Many data management tools help organizations “clean up” bad data and organize information according to type, format and source. Cloud BI tools help standardize and integrate data from diverse sources.

Store: Data is then loaded and stored in a target system, i,e., a database or warehouse, where analysts can later sift through the data.

Analyze: Data discovery applications, such as data mining or online analytical processing (OLAP), help analysts sort the data and generate reports on findings.

Interpret: Data visualization tools, such as dashboards and reports, help present BI data in meaningful ways that allow executives to make better business decisions.

Key Capabilities of Cloud BI Software

The functionality that cloud BI software offers can be very complex and technical (visit our BI page for more detailed information). Broadly speaking, however, the capabilities of cloud BI software include some or all of these categories:

Data management Tools for data quality management help users standardize information collected from various sources and ensure data is accurate.

Extract, transform and load (ETL) functionality collects data from other sources, transforms it into the right format and uploads it to a database or data warehouse so it can be analyzed.
Data discovery Allows users to analyze data sets to spot trends and make predictions. Data mining tools sort through large data sets to identify patterns and guide further analysis.

Predictive analytics functionality allows users to make predictions based on past and current trends, while semantic and text analytics tools identify patterns and sentiment in text data (e.g., data collected from social networks).
Reporting These tools present the results of data analysis in an easy-to-understand way. Visualizations display information in charts, graphs and other visual formats.

Dashboards present a snapshot of key performance indicators (KPIs) at a glance. Scorecards rate performance and show progress toward goals, while report writers allow users to easily create custom reports. Dedicated KPI applications can pull performance data from disparate systems to report on it in one view.

Benefits and Potential Issues

Some businesses may have concerns about the safety of storing sensitive corporate data in the cloud. For example, the high-profile data security breaches of the past two years rattled consumers and business leaders alike. But the truth is that, with the right safeguards in place, data stored in the cloud is just as secure as data stored on-premise—if not more so.

The benefits of cloud BI are vast, including:

Mobility and remote access. One of the biggest advantages of cloud-based systems is that they can be accessed from any compatible device with an Internet connection. That means users aren’t tied to their desks: They can log in from their laptop, home computer, tablet or smartphone to access the information they need at any time. If your users will need frequent mobile access, look for a system with a native mobile app, as these are designed to perform better on small screens.

Lower costs of entry. Cloud BI systems are typically easier and cheaper to implement than their on-premise counterparts. There’s no additional hardware to purchase, since the system is housed on the vendor’s servers. Implementation also tends to be quicker, because there’s both nothing physical to install and the vendor typically handles the initial setup after the company sends over its data.

Faster analytical insights. In today’s business environment, things are constantly changing, and users need to have critical reports and analytics information in real time. Cloud BI systems can be accessed from anywhere and update automatically, so you’ll always have the most current data at your fingertips.

Business users can access information without the IT department. Cloud BI systems are more intuitive and user-friendly than traditional BI and analytics software. Increasingly, these solutions are being aimed at—and adopted by—the business user. No more going through the IT department to gather insights or produce a key report, only to have the information be outdated by the time it gets to you. Get information when and how you want it, and all without a technical background.

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