The BI market is buzzing with two significant BI players in the last month announcing Cloud BI offerings for their popular Self-Service BI solutions: Microsoft and now Tableau.  These two now join veteran Cloud BI players such as GoodData, Birst, and Microstrategy, as well as other vendors like Pivotstream, Spotfire, SAP, IBM, Jaspersoft, and so on in this crowded Cloud BI space. There are many players entering into the game due to lower barriers to market entry now that visualization and cloud hosting is mainstream.  New players seem to pop up in the market almost monthly these days – at least in the big data BI and analytics space that is closely related to Cloud BI.   Big data BI also has some overlaps with cloud BI.  In the BI Big data space players like Splunk, Datameer, Karmasphere, Hadapt and Platfora also offer cloud BI and reporting. Now not all vendors are equal here at all – this is still an immature market. Some players are pure SaaS, some only IaaS, and some offer both. Some have strange pricing and will limit you by amount of rows in your data, some can only use your data if it is in the cloud, some can connect to on-premise data but don’t have the capability to use your company authentication options, and so on. Pricing for the various Cloud BI Self-Service BI offerings varies widely today from free to over $1000 per month per user.  Many vendors offer free private trials and also very  low cost and “freemium” versions that typically require published views to be public facing.

Keep in mind according the last Gartner Magic Quadrant for BI, there was a really key point about Cloud BI buried within the Spotfire section where Gartner that cited  “67% of the survey population at large will never put their enterprise BI in the cloud”. According to MarketsandMarkets Cloud Based Business Analytics Market Global Forecast & Analysis (2013 – 2018) study, “currently more than 13% of companies have cloud based business analytics and BI solutions. This figure is expected to reach more than 50% by 2018, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 25.8% for the period of 2013 to 2018. The overall cloud based business analytics market had  an overall size of $4.3 billion in 2012. It is expected to grow to $16.5 billion by 2018”. The flurry and mass of BI vendors pitching cloud to us is either going after a mere 33% of the market share and/or they are pushing/forcing this solution to the on-premise market to grab market share as quickly as possible. Regardless of where or how they are getting customers and any lack of customer driven demand for Cloud – make no mistake that BOTH Self-Service BI and Cloud BI are here to stay. A good article on this topic was written a while ago to Embrace Self-Service BI. There are many, many more of these articles, white papers, and studies from top BI and IT industry analysts.

Now there are some fantastic reasons to go to the Cloud – things like ease of spinning up an environment versus weeks or months of implementation consulting services before you see any real business value for your BI investment. You also get much quicker enhancements to the offerings you buy since it is easier for the vendors to deploy changes in the cloud. There is also a peace of mind that someone else is protecting the systems, doing the back ups, and can recover the systems should something go wrong. Business units can now by-pass IT in some cases and truly enjoy a robust, fully functional BI system without IT involvement. Of course that last point usually freaks out most DBAs and IT people that understandably fear for data security, governance, loss of control, insight into what is happening, and also fear the future of their careers.

There are a few  valid concerns around the Cloud BI option that you should sort through and evaluate. Some common concerns include the “true costs”, how to really estimate costs, how to get the data and report IP back once up there if you need to swap vendors, data movement latency, how to authorize, authenticate and secure the data with your existing security mechanisms, laws about where the data can reside (some countries in the world require local data centers), privacy, and user BI tool connectivity experiences. There are many others. Cloud BI can be great but it really needs to be tested before you commit to it. Consultants (like me – of course  I had to throw that in there to stay alive) can help you sort through the Cloud BI realities and vendor fact/fiction, test these solutions with pilot projects, help socialize the value if it does make sense in politically charged environments, guide you on how to best implement governance around these solutions, design the migration path to Cloud BI, or Hybrid BI. Personally I feel Hybrid BI is going to be a very hot area of BI in the next 5 years since most companies I know will not move all of their data into a cloud  but they will want to utilize the nice array of Cloud BI solutions with their on-premise data.

A few words of advice to the folks pushing back on turning on Self-Service BI and Cloud BI – learn it, understand how to govern, deploy it properly enterprise-wide, manage it, transform your role into enabling the business and providing a consumable data source the business can use with these tools or you will not be employable in the future. Although according to Gartner 57% reports are still built by IT as of 2012, the days of job security from long report queues and the business needing to go to IT to add a field to a report are going to be long gone. There is nothing more rewarding that having an empowered customer that sees you as their hero. I worked for a Hawaii company back in 2003 that recently came back to me in 2013 to ask for help empowering them again 10 years later. It is a big shift in mentality – especially for IT control freaks. I totally, totally get it. I am still a little hesitant around true cloud costs myself. Bottom line is to keep an open mind, look around you, and learn about these technologies now or be left behind since the train is leaving the station. The sheer amount of free and low cost training resources from $99 a year ACM membership, to free Microsoft Virtual Academy, OpenSAP, IBM Big Data University, Dataversity, Pluralsight, and sooooo many others is simply staggering. There really is no excuse to keep skills/knowledge up to date – prioritize the time to keep up.