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Business intelligence takes to cloud for small businesses

John Moore | June 5, 2014
Long the purview of deep-pocketed enterprises, business intelligence software is increasingly making its way into small-and medium-sized businesses. These firms credit cloud technology, which tends to be both cheaper and easier to manage than on-premises BI systems.

Altaz Bhanji, director of product management for MicroStrategy Cloud, says DeRoyal's case isn't unusual. Few IT departments brim with additional capacity to take on BI deployment. That situation makes hiring expenses a somewhat hidden cost-of-adoption issue. "Sometimes you overlook things like recruiting," he says.

Speed ranks as another advantage of DeRoyal's cloud BI deployment. An on-premises rollout would have taken much longer, Sewell says, because of the time involved in selecting software, getting a hardware quote, negotiating terms with vendors and working through installation. DeRoyal inked a contract with MicroStrategy in July 2012; a prototype was operating in November, and the initial rollout took place in December of that year.

Upgrades are quicker, too. Sewell says a typical enterprise resource planning (ERP) upgrade involves about 10 people and takes nine months to complete. Upgrading from one version of MicroStrategy Cloud to another involves two DeRoyal IT employees, with support from the MicroStrategy Cloud team, takes two weeks, she notes, with data validation and user acceptance testing taking an additional month.

Bhanji says the pace of deployment tops even cost as the key consideration for the majority of MicroStrategy's cloud customers. "Far and away, the bigger motivation ... is speed to market," he says, adding that most customers come on board expecting applications to be running "very quickly" without worrying about complexity.

Cloud BI Can Accommodate Legacy, On-premises Systems
Time and money convinced DeRoyal to place business intelligence in the cloud. Not every enterprise is eager to make that switch, though. Bhanji said an organization's prior investment in on-premises gear plays a role in discouraging cloud adoption.

"Cloud adoption, in general, has lagged in the business intelligence space when you compare it to things like and Infrastructure as a Service," Bhanji says. "One of the conclusions we came to was [that] customers spent time building enterprise data warehouses, invested a lot in this technology, and were reticent about moving to the cloud."

DeRoyal built an on-premises, Oracle-based data warehouse to pull data from the company's Oracle ERP system - and the company continues to maintain its data warehouse onsite. The workaround: The company uses MicroStrategy's Direct Connect technology to link that data source to its MicroStrategy Cloud instance.

"They can keep the data warehouse on premise and run the business intelligence layer in the cloud, Bhanji says. According to MicroStrategy, 43 percent of cloud customers host their data in onsite warehouses, with 57 percent hosting their data in the cloud.

BI Software Helps Firms Get Data-driven Answers
Sewell says DeRoyal put the cloud-based BI system in place to help the company deal with the major changes that have occurred in healthcare in recent years. The objective: Make decisions based on information, she says, as opposed to speculating on what business direction to pursue. "We felt we had a lot of data, but not a lot of information."


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