The last two years in the Covid-19 pandemic have been the most exuberant in terms of the interest and adoption of cloud based BI since its nascency in 2012. If you are someone interested in cloud or already have at least one application on it – as in the 81 percent of the organizations in the IDG 2020 survey – you may have an idea of the importance of the cloud to your organization. Well, there was a lot of talk in the last decade about shifting BI software to the cloud. So, if you are someone intrigued by this idea and want to know more about it, you are at the right place. Here I dwell on the idea of cloud-based BI and why you should consider having one. So, read on.  

What is Cloud BI? 

In simple terms, cloud BI is the use of technology tools to extract meaningful and actionable insights from data conducted either partially or fully in the cloud as the environment of transformation. Cloud BI allows the relevant teams to create, access, and manage important information and insights such as KPIs, dashboards and visual reports anywhere on the go without being constrained to traditional hardware such as PCs. Cloud BI combines the benefits and advantages of cloud while enhancing the features of BI tools to deliver exceptional value to organizations adopting it.  

Types of Cloud BI Platforms  

Any cloud BI application will be residing in one of these cloud platforms: 

Public Cloud 

A public cloud implies that the cost of infrastructure, resources and compute time will be shared among the tenants as per utilization. This is the most cost-effective option among the types of cloud platforms hosting the Cloud BI solution. Hence, it is a great choice for small and mid-sized companies with limited budgets but who want to enjoy the benefits that the cloud brings.  

Private Cloud  

This is the most exclusive option available for companies who can afford it. In a private cloud model, resources such as storage and infrastructure are dedicated to the user. It also brings along the benefit of data security and enables organizations who have to adhere to regulatory policies and risk compliance.  

Hybrid Cloud  

Hybrid cloud model is great for organizations who adhere to strict regulatory policies (HIPAA, GLBA, GDPR etc) but cannot afford to host the entire BI solution in the private cloud. A hybrid cloud model combines the best of the worlds of public and private cloud models. For example, a company can store its sensitive and private data in the private cloud while experimenting with big data in the public cloud.  

What to look for in a Cloud BI solution? 

When faced with the dilemma of choosing a cloud BI software tool to work with, it is important to look for the following capabilities among the wide-variety of software tools in the market: 

  • Built-in Data Management capabilities 

It is important to look for built-in data management capabilities such as the ability to extract data from a wide variety of data sources, the facility of cleansing and structuring data into a common format for analysis. Such capabilities, though present in a wide-variety of cloud BI tools in the market, differ in the specifics of how they do this. So, it is important to conduct a detailed scrutiny of each tool to choose one that meets your needs.  

  • Track Data Lineage 

Data Lineage refers to the process of tracking what happens to each data point from the point of entry into the BI software to the stage when it is converted into meaningful and actionable insights from the whole data set. The cloud BI software for your organization must definitely have this feature as it offers the ability to see which data holds meaning, and which does not. It can also explain why some records contribute so much to the end result and focus your efforts on deriving greater business value on them.  

  • Big data capabilities in the cloud with cloud-native solutions 

In this era of digital transformation, it is clear that the future belongs to cloud-native solutions. When compared with non-native cloud offerings, cloud-native solutions are better if the organization’s focus is on Big Data Analytics, where they have to handle a large volume, velocity, and variety of data. The reasons why Cloud-native solutions are better are outlined below. 

  1. Scalability: The scalability feature is turning out to be a need as some organizations deal with the large volume of data only for a few months of the year and they want to scale up and down the storage when needed. So, to provide the solution to this cloud-native applications will scale automatically. And with cloud-native solutions, you are charged only for the resources that are in use. 
  1. Cost-effective: Cloud-native solutions require no large hardware or software investments, and are available via a license/subscription plan. Adding additional users is also economical, software updates and maintenance fees are also avoided, and therefore, cloud-native solutions are more cost-effective.  
  1. Saves time: Cloud-native solutions are quickly implemented as there is no need for the aforementioned hardware or software configurations. And cloud-native solutions support the DevOps process and automation which plays a crucial role in providing fast service. 
  • Advanced Analytics Capabilities 

Advanced analytics capabilities such as root-cause analysis and predictive analytics are especially important in choosing the right cloud BI software. Root cause analysis explains why something happened and because of what set of data points. Predictive analytics forecasts future scenarios based on historical data and this can project future staffing needs, sales scenarios, losses and profits in each segment with high accuracy.  

  • Interactive Data Visualizations and Dashboards  

Researchers have found that the human mind processes images 60000 times faster than text. We humans are visual creatures and it helps that our tools take advantage and amplify those capabilities. Interactive data visualizations help make statistics and conclusions visually appealing, offering a greater impact on the decision maker and the targeted audience.Dashboards integrate different visualizations to make the analysis seem like a story, enhancing the storytelling capabilities of the BI user to craft their story of the data. 

Benefits of Cloud BI 

Below are the benefits offered by Cloud BI 

  • Affordable: Earlier in the past, BI software had to be hosted on expensive on-premises data centers which limited the scalability and capabilities of the software. Now, once you adopt a cloud BI tool, it is not only affordable but you will avoid the costs of installation and management of the data centers and software as the provider will take care of them. 
  • Easy to use: Easy to use UI and drag -and-drop operation of such software tools mean that you will not have to hire outside analysts to enhance your organization’s BI capabilities. Existing staff can begin to use the software as it is simple to do so.  
  • Mobility: Easy web based UI implies that the software can be operated from a smartphone and tablet especially if the users have to use it while they are traveling.  
  • Scalability: High fault-tolerance and scalability imply that the software can be scaled up and down as per demand and is not impacted in its accessibility in case of a natural calamity as the server locations of the cloud providers are spread across the world.  
  • Security: Cloud computing is known to be highly secure as the connections are encrypted and secure without any additional software and hardware demands on the user.  

Competitive Advantages offered by Cloud BI to Businesses 

Leveraging Cloud BI offers following competitive advantages to the Businesses: 

  • Cloud based BI has turned on the power of data to enable decision making. Today, a vast amount of diverse data is being captured every second by various businesses via websites, portals, social media and stored and fed into Data lakes and data lake houses into CRMs, ERPs, and other such enterprise tools. Tools such as Snowflake, Databricks, and Redshift have come to dominate this industry. Cloud BI can help organizations streamline processes, identify threats and opportunities, enabling businesses to plan for a successful future.  
  • Understanding customers and meeting their expectations forms the bedrock of any successful business. Cloud based BI gives the ability to firms to store their data in a central repository as a single source of truth and given the nature of the cloud, the insights gained from this data and data itself can be accessed by sales, marketing, operations, executive and all teams across the company to act based on the insights to deliver better performance quickly and with no downtime.  
  • Cloud based BI can help in better sales and marketing intelligence. As the data is stored in a single location, it is analyzed in real-time to deliver precisely targeted marketing messages, and identify roadblocks in the customer’s purchase journey with your organization. Also, it analyzes the response from your consumers and can readjust the sales and marketing teams efforts in real time. 

The Bottom Line 

Cloud BI is no longer a nice-to-have for an organization, rather it is a must-have to maintain or gain industry dominance and secure a competitive lead over its peers. It’s time to take advantage of the benefits of Cloud and BI by adopting Cloud BI.   

Jothi Venkatachalam