Cloud-Based BI Not as Simple as It Seems

Ann All

When I wrote about the possibilities and possible pitfalls of cloud-based business intelligence, I focused largely on the technical (data transfer speeds, integration capabilities, etc.), thanks to the tech-savvy sources I cited, including Forrester Research's Boris Evelson and Datasource Consulting's Steve Dine.


But as with almost any software deployment, people and processes will present far greater challenges than technology. I think it's a particular concern with SaaS, because SaaS vendors typically pitch their products as a no-muss, no-fuss implementation.


I've covered this ground before, writing about SaaS CRM. In that post, I mentioned the importance of defining processes and obtaining employee buy-in. But I left out a biggie: training. Again, SaaS vendors like to tout their user-friendly interfaces and similarities to consumer technologies. (You access through a browser! Like Google!) But no matter how seemingly simple, some training will likely still be required. If you don't provide it, employees won't use it.


That lesson comes through clearly in a post on the datadoodle blog, which relates the experiences of former LucidEra executives Ken Rudin and Darren Cunningham. (LucidEra is the SaaS BI provider that went out of business in June.) The company offered a 90-day free trial of its products, but provided no training. They found companies ran only the simplest reports. LucidEra then switched to a short training session, which offered basic information, nothing specific to companies that decided to try it. Again, no luck. From the post:


When LucidEra called to ask why, customers explained, "When you came out here and told us all that stuff, that was great. But we can't remember what you did. We just aren't as good a this as you are, so we can't use it."


I like how Simon Mortimore, a reader who commented on one of my posts, put it. He wrote:


... The reality is that BI just mechanizes the information delivery to support decision making, if the decision models do not exist then you just have an efficient information hole. One of the key tasks when I implement BI solutions is an end user business skills assessment and the appropriate training when required. ...


Don't neglect training, whether BI software is of the on-premise or the SaaS variety. A great suggestion from this post detailing publisher Meredith Corp.'s BI experiences: Get super-users to work with their less savvy colleagues.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 4, 2009 11:10 AM Ajay Dawar Ajay Dawar  says:


A truly thought provoking discussion. I used to run Product Management at LucidEra and I can attest to Ken's and Simon's comments.

With on-premise BI, the technology was lagging behind business need. And by that I don't mean the bloated feature sets in traditional BI products. I am referring to the fact the solutions were slow to accommodate business changes - new data sources and new fields. The solutions were unusable by business users. There are TDWI studies that have quantified the time and cost of adapting to such business changes.

With SaaS BI, suddenly the technology (or solution) has leaped ahead of business. Now the solution is affordable, gets up and running swiftly and accommodates changes at the pace of business. Suddenly the lack of analytic discipline in businesses is exposed. Larger companies have teams and processes to do it at least half-well. The SMBs that LucidEra focused on were clearly behind. I don't mean that in a negative way. These companies were growing - they were clearly doing many things right. Just that the lack of analytic discipline, was one of many exciting growth challenges. The book "Competing on Analytics" describes this problem best. This is where I vehemently agree with Simon's viewpoint.

There is another factor at play here. The application delivered by LucidEra was Sales Analytics targeted at the office of Sales in B2B companies. Traditionally this is not a very analytically driven department. Typically cost centers like Finance, HR, Marketing, Operations are more analytically driven than revenue centers since cost centers have to justify their value to the business, constantly. Moreover LucidEra was trying to create a category where none existed before - SaaS and Sales Analytics. In this respect LucidEra's experience could not be applied to the larger SaaS BI market. It is a reflection of a very tiny portion of the market.

Case in point are many of PivotLink's customers. A very large company measures on-time delivery with PivotLink. They identified that moving the needle on just this one metric will save them millions. Another PivotLink customer, DMA, has a fantastic analytical discipline. They have aggregated data and ranked the customers they serve on order management metric and have come up with ROI models. They advise their customers, for example, on how much an X% improvement in # of consolidated orders will save them. They not only measure the key metrics meticulously but have the rigor to first think about the business impact and the ability to act on the analytic information before  resourcing the technical implementation.

There are certain verticals and departments that tend to be more analytically driven than others. These departments clearly benefit from SaaS BI - today. PivotLink has been in business for almost 10 years has had a 95% customer retention rate. PivotLink customers clearly get the value year over year over year.

Dec 4, 2009 5:44 PM Neil Raden Neil Raden  says:

I wrote about LucidEra in My Post Moretem of LucidEra ( http://www.b-eye-network.com/blogs/raden/archives/2009/06/my_post_mortem_of_lucidera.php )  a little while back. I believe that their problems were twofold. First, the application was too narrow. Second, despite the fact Ken and Darren are exceptionally talented people, 100% of their experience was in enterprise software.

Dec 4, 2009 5:48 PM Konferens Arlanda Konferens Arlanda  says:

You are right that alignment and colors both matter a lot. Usually people give priority to only the technical points.

Dec 6, 2009 10:57 AM Jerome Pineau Jerome Pineau  says:

Interesting perspective but for one thing, cloud-based BI does not, IMHO, seem simple enough - that's part of the problem - clearly it's a heck of a lot simpler than open source "solutions" like Pentaho or Mondrian, but there's still a lot of progress to be made there.

Also I don't think having to provide training is a good omen for SaaS BI players. If you have to provide training, then your product is too hard to use. If it's too hard to use, you might as well be on-premise. If users cannot leverage your cloud BI product quickly to at least get a working prototype up and running in days and not weeks or months, I say you have a problem. On the user front, who has the time and inclination to suffer through training these days? I'm not sure such a post-sales activity benefits either side. It's expensive for vendors and inefficient for buyers.

I believe the best way to get employees to use a SaaS product is to let them lose on it and verify the marketing message. If it holds water, the users will adopt the product. At the end of the day all they want to do it get their job done quickly. Not invest time in learning yet another tool or paradigm or method or whatever.

Just my 2 cents.


Dec 8, 2009 3:52 PM Ajay Dawar Ajay Dawar  says: in response to Neil Raden


Both Ken and Darren had adequate SaaS experience at Siebel CRM On-Demand and Salesforce.com respectively, before LucidEra. Separately, I agree that the application was narrow for some customers.

The question here is - Is selling just Sales Analytics a viable business model? We now know the answer.


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