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SaaS-Based BI: It's the Expertise, Not the Software

Plenty of organizations want to spread access to actionable information, but a vast BI/data-integration skills gap stands in the way. A new study sees best-in-class companies tapping analytic apps, outsourcers and on-demand BI to fill the void.
Anchor Blue, which has 175 retail stores and 125 Levis and Docker outlets, turned to SeaTab 18 months ago after completing a nine-month migration from a mainframe environment to Oracle Retail. That deployment included a supporting Data Warehouse, but "we didn't do enough research to handle the reporting and analytical side," says Harrison Kang, director of IT. "We were under pressure from our business units to just get it done quickly, and SeaTab was able to get a pilot project done within seven days and take it into production in four to five weeks."

Anchor Blue now generates static operational reports from the Oracle data warehouse using Cognos, but transactional information is sent by FTP to SeaTab each night. "They understand the retail business and business intelligence within retail, and that's very important," says Kang. "The turnaround time for new reports or analytics is so much faster. We run a very lean shop, and we just don't want to have to develop and maintain those resources in house."

Kang allows that the ongoing costs, which he puts at about $15,000 per month, can be "on the high side for a small to midsized business," but he says the alternative would be adding two to three people to his two-employee BI/data warehousing team. "We just don't have the budget for that."

Targeted or Mainstream?

Oco, SeaTab and other SaaS-based BI players would do well to stick to their strengths, but there's always the temptation to take it mainstream, so it's not surprising to see them pursuing new industries and horizontal applications. Even for companies as large as Business Objects , Cognos and SAS , the approach to SaaS could take several directions.

"It will be interesting to see what the established BI players do," says Hatch. "They, too, have industry-focused groups with domain expertise and a consultative approach that could be applied to the SaaS or ASP model. I could see it growing rapidly simply because mid-tier companies might want access to the same technology used by industry leaders."

Hostmann says Gartner is advising customers to consider SaaS-based BI if they have "a straightforward set of requirements around scheduled reporting, monitoring a particular piece of data or handling repetitive analysis of X measures. SaaS can be a good way to drive down the cost of ownership and the cost of the skills."