There is much activity in the business intelligence (BI) market for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Since last year, BI vendors have one by one unveiled new initiatives and solutions for SMBs that are aimed at capturing a share of this largely untapped market. Many have taken the software as a service route to offer lower-cost options to potential customers in this sector.
SMBs typically do not have sufficient resources and skills in-house to implement BI solutions. Furthermore, the cost of professional services offered by BI vendors often puts those out of the reach of SMBs. However, the higher end of that market, the mid-market, is still largely untapped, with a growing awareness and demand for BI.
Software as a service (SaaS) is one of the key enablers of delivering BI to the sector. SaaS allows companies to start small with BI and benefit from hosted solutions that are easier and less costly to deploy. Unlike traditional on-premise software that is typically sold on a license basis to run on a company’s own network, on-demand software is leased on a subscription basis and runs on the servers of the SaaS provider.
A number of vendors offer BI solutions using SaaS, also known as on-demand. SAS Institute, the business intelligence software giant, has been offering BI on-demand for some time. Moreover, last August, it rolled out a new software and services package that combines reporting and analytic tools for SMBs. The packaged offering makes it easier for the sector to implement SAS-based reporting and analytic technologies.
In April 2006, Business Objects unveiled Crystalreports.com, which is an on-demand solution that enables users to share and distribute reports across the enterprise. The offering is ideal for Business Objects’ existing mid-market Crystal Reports customers who already have the software installed locally.
Business Objects has also enhanced connectivity between its Crystalreports.com and Salesforce.com applications, with integration that enables Salesforce’s customers to view, refresh, schedule, and distribute reports directly from their on-demand CRM applications via a new tabbed interface.
Elsewhere, Cognos, the Canadian business intelligence software firm, recently acquired Celequest, a US-based business intelligence software company that provides an on-demand version of LAVA, its operational BI appliance. LAVA On Demand is available on subscription and is targeted only at customers of Salesforce.com. Bundled into the service are two pre-configured sales operations dashboards, and a library of sales metrics that plug into Salesforce.com.
Cognos also joined Salesforce.com’s AppExchange online applications marketplace earlier this year, and has developed a new data adapter for the Salesforce on-demand CRM platform. The new data adapter will provide joint Salesforce Winter 07 and Cognos 8 BI customers with direct access to Salesforce CRM data, allowing the user to capture Salesforce information, and integrate it with other historical and transactional data from the rest of the organisation. With the data adapter, Salesforce customers can view and interact with BI information in enterprise portals, Microsoft Office, enterprise search sites, and mobile devices.
Other BI options for SMBs include an on-demand solution from OCO, and BI-enhanced Excel 2007 and SharePoint Server from Microsoft that work with the rest of Microsoft’s BI stack. Microsoft’s PerformancePoint Server is scheduled for release this year and will add to the range of products that are available for this sector.
In addition, Information Builders has extended the reach of its WebFocus business intelligence products to more SMBs, through a partnership with IBM. The company joined IBM’s ISV Advantage Initiative, which will provide Information Builders with IBM-backed technical and marketing support when selling into the sector. Business Objects and Cognos, are also ramping-up their reseller network to service this, as yet, under-penetrated market.
SaaS is bringing BI within the reach of SMBs. It is enabling them to benefit from BI without having to set up complex reporting and analytic solutions in-house. Most can now get started by making modest levels of investment, starting small but having the option to scale up and extend to more users when required.
Reporting is a good application to start with and is most suited to the SaaS model. Other benefits of SaaS include the low cost of maintenance and administration, which should add up to an overall lower cost of ownership. The benefits are in improved visibility of business information, viewed from different angles that allow managers to make better informed decisions at the right time. Under such circumstances, return on investment is likely to be realized very quickly.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)