Castle on a Cloud

In Les Misérables, little Cosette is a 10-year-old girl living a life of indentured servitude.  Cosette is a cleaning girl for the innkeeper, Thenardier, and his heartless wife, who brutally punishes Cosette whenever she slips up.  As an escape, Cosette fantasizes about her “castle on a cloud”—a perfect place where there aren’t “any floors to sweep” and “crying isn’t allowed”.  Instead, a lady all in white holds her and sings lullabies saying “I love you very much”.  Of course, Cosette’s fantasy is just that and is shattered as Madame Thenardier cruelly returns her to her real world.

The emerging excitement of “BI in the Cloud” seems a lot like Cosette’s castle.  Businesses are struggling to deploy new BI systems quickly and efficiently (and maybe the CIO or IT director can empathize with poor Cosette).  A lot of BI vendors are promising that their SaaS (software as a service) BI solutions will come to the rescue.  It sounds perfect— no more “floors to sweep”; instead, the hard work will be done for you.  Unfortunately for many customers, it’s just as much a fantasy as Cosette’s castle.  In fact, the BI industry can’t even agree on what “BI in the cloud” means.

In June, Gartner research published a report titled: ‘Cloud Analytics’ Means Many Different Kinds of Opportunity, co-authored by Bill Gassman and Rita Knox.  In the report, Gartner names six elements of cloud analytics and SaaS BI: data sources, data models, processing applications, computing power, analytic models, and storing of results.  In short, the report’s conclusion is that BI vendors use many different definitions when referring to SaaS BI and this can cause BIG problems for buyers.

Gassman encourages enterprises embarking on SaaS BI to start with vendors that collect and analyze data that already resides in the cloud.  That makes sense, because one of the biggest challenges of any BI system is getting access to data.  The big BI vendors, with their big BI platforms, aren’t really solving the hardest problems when they simply deploy those platforms “in the cloud”.  The Gartner report faults the vendors’ marketing hype for getting in the way of customers understanding what they’re actually buying. [No surprise there…who’s ever heard of marketing causing extreme confusion like that?!]

So, if you’re expecting to quickly get SaaS based BI on the cheap, you’re probably not being any more realistic than little Cosette.  If you start naively down that path, you’ll be snapped back to reality soon enough.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

BI in the cloud is a promising idea, but (at least for today) it’s a dream, not a reality.

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