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3/29/2012
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Cloud Vendor Brings CFOs Closer To ERP Data

Host Analytics adds business intelligence capabilities so top execs can better anticipate future revenue.

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Financial performance is a lagging indicator, so it's not new news that chief financial officers and other top execs want insights into operational performance--in areas such as sales, marketing, manufacturing, and supply chain--that point to future revenue.

The desire to bring operational and financial performance data together led to a wave of consolidation among on-premises business intelligence (BI) and corporate performance management (CMP) software vendors in the 2006-2007 timeframe, with, for example, Cognos buying Applix, SAP buying Outlooksoft and BusinessObjects, and Oracle buying Hyperion.

Will the same trend happen among cloud-based services? There are signs it's already happening, with the latest being software-as-a-service CPM vendor Host Analytics' announcement this week that it's adding BI capabilities to its services by way of a new Host Analytics Business Analytics Service.

"Any CFO worth his or her salt should know what the sales pipeline looks like, and lead-generation is another indicator of future financial revenue," said Keri Brooke, Host Analytics VP of marketing, in an interview with InformationWeek. "People are looking to CFOs to provide the same kinds of checks and balances on ERP data that we see them applying to financial data."

[ Want more on cloud apps? Read 10 Essential Cloud Apps For SMBs. ]

The new Business Analytics Service will provide a more holistic look at financial data as well as operational data that directly impacts the bottom line.

"The intention is not to become a BI vendor, but we're providing new tools to support better dashboarding and scorecarding," Brooke said. "Operational employees can now see all the detailed financial information that we hold in our application."

As an example, HR managers and line-of-business executives who need a better sense of revenue and capital-planning information can make use of a service that was formerly geared exclusively to finance and accounting staff.

The technology behind Host Analytics' Business Analytics is a reporting and dashboarding engine from Birst, which offers its BI software on-premises and as a cloud-delivered service. Host Analytics is running Birst's software in its own data center and embedding the functionality into its own app rather than mashing together two separate Web services.

With the addition of Birst's technology, Host says its core CPM service, which starts at $750 per user, per year, will gain better reporting on finance-related areas such as HR, revenue, and capital-planning information. The Business Analytics service will enable users to tap into and analyze data from the CPM system as well as transactional applications, whether they're on-premises apps from the likes of SAP and Oracle, or cloud-based services from NetSuite, Salesforce.com, Marketo, and others. This broader service is $50 to $100 per user, per month, depending on whether users are consuming data or actively inputting information and creating budgets.

It appears Host Analytics isn't the only cloud CPM vendor responding to interest in operational reporting. Adaptive Planning, for one, lists transactional reporting and analysis, and sales forecasting and analysis among its services. Anaplan has "solutions" for sales and retail that report on related operational metrics. And even recent CPM startup Tidemark talks up metrics and data integrations that go beyond financial data into operational areas.

Host Analytics says it recognizes that many customers have incumbent BI platforms, so it has also introduced an ODBC driver that will enable customers to use their BI suites to tap into Host Analytics CPM data. Integration can be cloud-to-on-premises or cloud-to-cloud, and Brooke said the new driver eliminates custom integration and data-movement steps.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It's not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)

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