A trend I've written about previously and continue to read and hear about is business units participating more directly in IT purchasing decisions-and in some cases leaving IT entirely out of the loop. This is usually presented as a bad thing, though some folks seem to have a lower opinion of this business autonomy than others. I see it as a mostly good thing, though I think IT should be involved at some point to ensure areas such as security and integration receive the consideration they should.
The Wisdom of BI Crowds
A study by Dresner Advisory Services suggests that business users are winning the war with IT over business intelligence. Most new BI projects appear to be small in scope, and to favor emerging BI vendors.
Active user involvement in purchasing decisions seems to indicate an "information-driven culture" at companies using software-as-a-service business intelligence. In presenting results of recent Aberdeen Group research, Aberdeen senior research analyst David White writes on TDWI:
Organizations using the SaaS approach for business intelligence are more likely to have an information-driven culture than their counterparts that do not pursue SaaS BI (76 percent vs. 59 percent). Likewise, SaaS users have a much higher level of business user involvement in the purchasing decision. Enterprises that adopt SaaS BI have business users who hunger for information and ensure that the procurement process works in a way that lets them get the information they need the way they want it.
When business users are actively involved in purchasing BI, ease of use is one of their primary criteria. And as White writes, "SaaS BI tools are generally intuitive, easy to use, and easy to understand." Aberdeen found organizations using SaaS BI have 50 percent more self-service BI users than companies that do not use SaaS. That's significant, since some folks think that getting more people using BI is the key to ROI.
It's also no surprise, then, that Dresner Advisory Services found earlier this year that vendors selling SaaS BI products are gaining ground on companies offering traditional, on-premise BI software.
In addition to less-intimidating user interfaces, another reason SaaS BI is easier to use is because deployments typically are based on smaller, simpler data models. As White notes, SMBs using SaaS have smaller and less complex data sets than their larger counterparts. And at big companies, individual departments often use SaaS BI to supplement on-premise deployments by filling niches that traditional software doesn't adequately address. "This smaller scale can make data inherently easier to navigate and easier to slice and dice," White writes.
Earlier this year when I interviewed Cindi Howson, author of "Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App," she advocated an approach that emphasizes standardization for things that won't change frequently, such as hardware, software, master data, procedures and best practices, while allowing business units to build their own applications and their own reports to access departmental-specific data. She said:
It's perfectly acceptable to use software-as-a-service as a tool your statisticians might use, but maybe another tool for your business offering. ... I call (a platform) a predominant standard rather than an exclusive standard. I think you always have to go back to what are the business requirements, what is the time to value, and look at it from that perspective.
I shared some great tips from Forrester Research's Boris Evelson on what to look for when purchasing SaaS BI in a post from December.