Possibly a little early to blog as this startup seems to be a while away from RTM, but it looks cool and BI as a service is very topical…
What they’ve got is a "a complete, on-demand business intelligence platform combining analytics, reporting, data warehousing and data integration". The workflow seems to be that you upload your data, then you have an online environment where you have OLAP and collaboration tools; similar, I guess, to what Panorama are working on with Google docs? I guess they’re going to be making their money designing the initial data warehouse/ETL/OLAP design for each customer as well as subscription costs?
This raises some fundamental questions about BI as a service in my mind:
- Will companies be willing to upload their most valuable and secret data to a third party on the web? If they’re willing to use online data stores like Amazon S3 or SQL Server Data Services or other hosted solutions then I suppose so, but that’s a big if – and these online data stores aren’t necessarily positioned to hold the kind of ultra-sensitive data that you work with in a BI system.
- However complete a platform you build, the old adage that all data ends up in Excel needs to be considered. Remember it’s Excel I said here, not any old online spreadsheet. Will the guys in Finance abandon Excel to do spreadsheets on the net? I’m not sure. This is where Microsoft have a locked-in advantage, but it’s not an insurmountable problem for BI service-providers. Why not expose an XMLA interface for your hosted OLAP and let people connect to it directly from Excel? It’s possible for Analysis Services and SAP BW, and I’m sure companies like Simba will be only too happy to Excel-enable other OLAP tools.
- Unless BI-as-a-service companies let customers or partners design and build their own solutions on their platform, will these companies be able to scale out to meet the demand of designing enough apps for potentially hundreds of customers? That’s a lot of BI projects for any one consultancy to run. More importantly, will they be able to do an adequate job of designing each app? One of the arguments that’s always used against outsourcing BI projects is that face-to-face contact between designer and business users is essential, and that’s a view I tend to agree with.