Things to Consider before Moving Your Business Intelligence to the Cloud

by Mark Peterman

Investment in cloud computing is projected to rise from $67 billion in 2015 to $162 billion in 2020. The likes of Google, Amazon and Salesforce have pioneered this new age of information processing, and at less than two decades old we’re only now beginning to scratch the surface of its potential.

One field that appears to be showing more cloud potential than most is Business Intelligence (BI). It’s a field that continues to outpace the growth of the overall cloud market, and for good reason; in many ways, BI and the cloud are a match made in heaven.

But would this match be in the best interests of your organization? Let’s take a look at some of the hows, the whats and the whys of cloud BI.

How does Business Intelligence fit with the cloud?

BI, as defined by Gartner, is ‘an umbrella term that includes the applications, infrastructure, tools and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimize decisions and performance.’ Broadly speaking, it’s the smart use of data to grow and develop your business.

Almost every aspect of good BI practice is transferable to the cloud. Sourcing your data, running ETL processes, storing your data warehouse, producing reports; all of these actions are able to be completed with cloud services. The depth of data that most BI systems store and generate actually makes the cloud quite an elegant solution; one that is scalable, flexible, and accessible.

But just because the cloud can be used for your organization’s BI activities, should it be used?

Why should I move my BI to the cloud?

There are a host of benefits that come from moving your Business Intelligence to the cloud. These include:

  • Low capital expenditure: You pay for what you use, with little to no upfront setup costs.
  • Low ongoing cost: Economies of scale – greater amounts of users means lower cost per user.
  • Ultimate scalability: It adapts to your requirements no matter how many petabytes of data you may need to store, ETL and analyze.
  • Accessibility: Users don’t need to be on site – they simply require an internet connection and appropriate login credentials.
  • Shareability: The accessibility also means that data and insights can be shared with ease.
  • Data Security: With cloud providers employing teams of experts to guard your data, the cloud generally provides a more secure environment than an internal BI solution can.
  • Guaranteed data backup: A reputable cloud provider will ensure your data is always safeguarded against disasters.
  • Ease of use: Cloud BI solutions can be incredibly simple to use thanks to their need for universal appeal.

Is the cloud right for your organization?

So, does the cloud represent the right choice for your organization’s BI activities? To answer that question you’ll first have to answer a few others. An organization should ask themselves the following questions before committing to the cloud for its BI, or indeed before disregarding it.

  • What is the size of the budget your business devotes to BI activities?
  • Do you already have business data in the cloud?
  • How are your current BI tools servicing your business in terms of functionality and performance?
  • Will end users within your business have any qualms with using the cloud?
  • Do you see a benefit in analyzing unstructured data?
  • Do you need to integrate in-house and cloud data sources?

Answering these questions will allow you to paint a far more complete picture of how compatible a cloud-based BI solution will be with your business. It’s also worth discussing a couple of potential drawbacks of BI in the cloud, which, while relatively minor, must be considered before making your final decision.

  • Playing by someone else’s rules: In such a dynamic field as cloud computing, providers must continually evolve in order to stay competitive. While the industry is now mature enough to offer greater stability than in years gone by, these new evolutions may offer you options you didn’t have in the past, requiring some adjustments for the optimal solution. There are times when these changes may require a change without much additional value for your solution, but that is quite rare.
  • Compatibility: Many organizations will be hesitant to fully commit to the cloud, and continue to conduct some of their BI activities internally. But this can result in compatibility issues between internal and cloud systems.
  • Cost calculations: While many cloud providers offer ‘cost calculators’ to businesses who are contemplating making a move to the cloud, these inevitably rely on rather hefty assumptions. Accurate memory, processing and data transfer requirements can be all but impossible to predict. While costs will likely be lower than an on-premise solution, the exact figure can be extremely difficult to budget for (at least without first running a pilot).

But with 74% of Tech CFOs saying cloud computing will have the most measurable impact on their business in 2017, it’s fair to say that for most companies the cloud represents a fantastic choice. It has an unrivaled ability to adapt to your business’s needs, while remaining extremely cost-effective.

And it seems the marriage of BI and cloud computing will only become more efficient and effective into the future.