It is always exciting to be involved with a technology in the early adopter phase, and with a technology like cloud BI, you get the sense it is only a matter of time before it goes mainstream. This isn't the first time we've been at the starting line just as a new technology takes its first few steps and, if anything else, that experience has taught us to be patient and listen to the early adopter crowd.
As with any term as hyped as cloud BI (or mobile BI), there are a lot folks who are still uncertain about the technology. I am regularly asked by customers if I think that cloud BI is "here". My answer is yes, but if you expect cloud BI to boldly walk up to the podium and announce its arrival, you might be waiting for some time. It's not that cloud BI adoption is going slowly ‐ our experience is the exact opposite ‐ it's that cloud BI is still a new technology and it still needs to clear a few hurdles before it goes mainstream.
The most common questions I get about cloud BI revolve around security, performance, and the use-case. Let's take a look at each of these questions to understand the hurdles and opportunities involved with cloud BI.
Without a doubt, security is the number one hurdle for cloud BI to clear. This boils down to two factors: technology and human perception. Resolving the first issue is relatively straightforward, and has to do with implementing the right security protocols, data encryption, and key compliances. In many cases, cloud security might even be better than the security your organization offers (is your organization in-house SAS70 certified).
The second issue is more complicated (as is the case whenever you are dealing with people) and is related to the (mis)perception that data stored in the cloud is insecure. The best way to resolve this issue is through word of mouth and for organizations to see cloud BI in action for themselves. Once they find their data is secure in the cloud - and time will be the only way to prove this - I expect the benefits of cloud BI will speak for itself.
When talking about the performance of a software application, maintenance concerns are always at the top of the list. There are two parts to this equation: upgrading the application, and server downtime. Cloud-based applications are incredibly simple to update (at least from the user's perspective), and users just have to log in to the application to see new features and bug-fixes. Server downtime is another straightforward issue because cloud BI vendors (like us) depend on having our application up and running. Since a cloud-service vendor has the benefit of a scalable user-model, up-time can be optimized with a load balanced architecture with multiple servers meaning that downtime rarely affects users. If your in-house, on-premise solution goes down, then you need to contact your IT team and wait for a fix to come through. With cloud BI, any server downtime immediately becomes priority number one for responsible vendors.
I often encounter the perception that cloud BI is strictly for remote workers like executives and sales reps. While that use-case is the one that jumps out at most evaluators, the fact is that cloud BI is as appropriate for the office as an on-premise tool. In fact, because cloud BI has an elastic user model it is easy to include everyone in your BI strategy without having to install additional software or hardware. Rather than associating cloud BI with a specific use-case, consider cloud BI within the context of your business' data needs, and how cloud BI can empower you to be more agile and flexible.
Make no mistakes about it, cloud BI is here to stay . As the technology matures and addresses the issues mentioned in this post, it will become a staple of any agile BI strategy. The reason? It is easy to use, scalable to any business size (small-large), accessible, and easier to maintain than on-premise tools.