SMBs (Small and Medium Businesses) looking to gain a competitive edge are increasingly looking toward business intelligence (BI) options.
BI tools can offer fast data processing for insight-based, real-time decision making. Lock (2010) explains that, ‘a sound BI strategy will significantly alleviate the manual and time-consuming burden of reporting and analytical processes which may be spreadsheet or static-report-based’. The typical SMB has a smaller budget and staff base than its larger competitors. However BI can provide a competitive advantage for smaller enterprises. "BI is about making the best possible use of data for decision-making," says Helena Schwenk Principal Analyst at MWD Advisors. "If you look at it from a licensing perspective there can be a lot of advantages."
BI assists enterprises in creative performance management initiatives and insightful decision making processes. It allows businesses to capture and process mission critical data and convert it quickly to inform decision-making.
The clear advantage of cloud-based BI? Cloud-based BI solutions simplify business analytics and mobile IT for SMBs allowing easy collaboration and useability. The intersection between cloud and BI for the SMB occurs in three key ways:
Firstly Business Intelligence programs can be stored on a hosted cloud solution. This provides a flexible, easily accessible storage base. The scalable nature of cloud solutions means that the companies can configure the system up or down to meet changing needs, without excessive overhead charges of additional infrastructure upgrades. It also enables businesses, ‘to scale quickly to large numbers of users, and get access to analysis within minutes, rather than the weeks it takes IT departments or power users to set up inquiries and reports’ (Ovum analyst Fredrik Tunvall).
Secondly, cloud can reduce TCO for BI tools. This is because the SaaS delivery model utilises automation to reduce deployment costs. The lack of physical infrastructure also reduces upfront costs. And the cloud providers sell the software, so they handle maintenance and integration costs.
Thirdly, BI tools on cloud enable enterprises improved functionality. It allows businesses to automate processes that previously slowed productivity or required extensive manual hours. Alex Whittles, Business Intelligence Consultant at business communications consultancy Purple Frog explains, "the situation in smaller firms is often to do with the IT systems. Often the systems do their job pretty well but the major flaw is, they are designed to do the job, not report on it." Reporting can show areas of weakness within the business where changes can be made to optimize flow. In this way Cloud BI can be transformative. It can alleviate organizational bottlenecks to speed up processing and provide real business value.
Tools such as IBM Cognos Express are scalable, preconfigured, enterprise level and ideal for visualization, forecasting, reporting and analysis.