Business intelligence (BI) and analytics operations have traditionally been on-premise activities. However, this is beginning to change. With vendors like Microsoft investing heavily in their cloud-based BI applications – and with organisations moving more of their data to the cloud, now is the time to embrace cloud analytics.
Until recently, there hasn’t been the same impetus to move analytics to the cloud as there has been with many lines of business applications.
Cloud-based business applications like ServiceNow, Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365 have been available for some time. Yet, many organisations still have a legacy ERP system in operation, and a mass of spreadsheets lying around somewhere else. This means that data is not all in one place, which can cause all kinds of problems, most notably reduced visibility and unnecessary confusion.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With the infrastructure and capabilities available in Azure, it is a lot easier to put all your data in one place, even if it is spread between on-premises and the cloud. With a centralised dataset to work from and a single version of truth, employees can access data in the cloud quickly and easily, that is completely reliable.
The cloud allows you to consider different frameworks for data analysis. Cloud architecture allows you to separate workloads and use different technologies to develop insights.
Previously, organisations used relational databases like SQL Server or Oracle. In those scenarios, data storage would sit on the same server as the compute engine. With a cloud-based alternative, organisations have more freedom to optimise how they manage that. You can start splitting it out, so your storage is held on the most appropriate platform for that data. Likewise, the computer could move somewhere else that is more appropriate. This allows organisations to decouple storage from your computer and manage these independently.
This has two great advantages. First, your computer power can be switched off when you are not using it, saving money. Secondly, you can use different types of storage and compute for different types of data.
Organisations can be flexible. For instance, you might choose not to use a relational database and instead use an architecture like a data lake for unstructured data. When you have peaks and troughs in your demand or activity, you can scale them up or down. Cloud-based solutions can offer more agile and bespoke forms of architecture.
Cloud infrastructure is simply more agile. It allows organisations to experiment more with analytics, helping them build solutions more quickly to meet their needs.
The cloud facilitates an iterative approach to developing new BI systems. In today’s world, it’s not viable to take 12 to 18 months to build a monolithic data warehouse. Your customers’ expectations might have shifted, and your industry might have been transformed.
Instead, you can use a methodology which will build up the functionality in your analytics over time. So, you can start by fixing a problem, and then move on to fixing another problem. With an iterative approach to building out a solution, you end up with a system that provides for all your analytic needs. This allows your organisation to be agile, so you can focus on the highest priority and the highest value first.
The nature of the cloud means that it grows with you. When you only pay for what you need, you can spin up services when you need them or scale out your infrastructure as your needs grow. You can adopt an operational expenditure model rather than a capital expenditure model for cloud analytics, which makes signing off on investing in cloud analytics a lot easier.
The learning curve for cloud-based analytics tools is less steep, since they are designed for typical business users, not analytics specialists. They are data visualisation tools similar to apps most professionals are already using, like Excel, but with a visual approach to getting insight from data.
This brings advanced analytics capabilities directly to the end user. Cloud analytics are accessible on the devices and tools they already use. For instance, most cloud-based BI solutions now have a mobile element built in, where the mobile experience is essentially identical to the desktop experience.
What’s more, you can embed your analytics into your user’s most frequently used applications. This way, you can embed intelligence into your business processes, which is not only essential for driving adoption, but also for improving productivity and innovation. If you’re embedding the dashboard inside the tools being using to get processes done, users don’t have to break out to a different system. It all becomes one ecosystem. By integrating analytics into every level of your business, you’ll gain much richer insights from your data.
The cloud offers reliability and resilience, because solutions are globally replicated. These systems are operational 99.99% of the time. From a compliance perspective, you’ll be able to trust that your systems are running, as they sit across multiple datacentres in different geographic locations. If one goes down, the others will be able to carry on running.
Because it’s Software as a Service (SaaS), it’s reliable, secure and upgrades are included. You‘ll always have access to have the latest and greatest features as they’re released, and permissions management are built in.
Cloud analytics has taken a huge step forward. By making it easier than ever for employees to use, it can rapidly change the culture of your organisation to one where innovation and insight are at the forefront of everything you do. If you haven’t taken the jump to doing your analytics on cloud-based platforms, now is the time.