While Cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms are growing in terms of popularity in the business sector, for some, it remains foggy at best. I get this confusion. It is a fast-moving evolution that makes a lot of sense, but if you are used to hosting your software on premises, as most of us have always done, the shift makes a lot of sense in theory, but not always so much in practice. Questions of cost, security, access, management can start to pile up, and the frustration of confusion is exacerbated by the fact that some of us are inevitably going in the direction of the cloud, for parts of our IT solutions or the whole kit and caboodle. However, there are some really impactful Business Intelligence (BI) options for Microsoft Dynamics users, and it never hurts to know your options. This article will break down the facets of Cloud computing and explore a few Cloud BI options for Microsoft Dynamics.
First of all, let’s discuss the advantages of housing your data and analytics in the cloud. The implementation of the application is typically faster because it does not require you to install on-premises; in fact, you’re not doing any installation at all. The responsibility of speedy, quality performance is that of the vendor, and that is their primary focus instead of the IT department who is being pulled in many other directions, so they are able to provide a faster, high performing service. Additionally, Cloud platforms consider your performance requirements and can make adjustments for your peak performance demands. As far as security goes, in response to public opinion of early models, Cloud options are now armed with modern, intense security infrastructures. Another aspect that gets debated regularly is the cost of SaaS.
I have written about the comparison of on-premises versus SaaS costs before, but both sides passionately defend their assertion that their option is cheaper in the long run. In terms of the return on investment (ROI), on-premises solutions will argue that your purchase and ownership of the software will pay for itself within 3 to 5 years’ time, especially as the monthly subscription never ends with Cloud SaaS pricing. Cloud solution vendors assert that there are several hidden costs associated with on-premises ownership, including more training, support, consulting, as well as upgrades, updates, and hardware.
The important thing is to do the math yourself – get all the details about outside costs that you will have to afford with both solutions and do the math for a 3-5 year span. Then, know that, with SaaS, you’re not renting to own – you’re paying the Cloud host to provide the comprehensive service of hosting your data, without any IT involvement, and keeping it running and up to date. Another thing that I know people can find confusing is the difference between SaaS and Cloud computing.
SaaS is a type of subscription-based pricing, and Cloud computing is a method of managing software (that happens off site as opposed to on-premises). When you go the Cloud computing route, your software is managed off site, and you are subscribing to that service, so you will essentially be renting the Cloud-hosted software through SaaS pricing. However, you can also have your software on-premises, but rent instead of owning, so again, that would be set up using a SaaS price structure. Relatedly, there are two types of Cloud computing.
The first type of Cloud BI solution is a pure Cloud solution. Two BI vendors that offer Cloud-only software are Adaptive Insights and Host Analytics. These two vendors provide the off-site hosting and management that Cloud has become increasingly popular for – for a monthly subscription price, without hidden prices, upgrades, licenses, maintenance, and the overall responsibility of owning software.
On the flip side, you will either be running Microsoft Dynamics in-house or in a different cloud, and the data needs to be moved or replicated to the cloud where the BI solution is housed, limiting the amount of Dynamics modules and data detail that is feasible to continuously feed into the BI cloud solution from Dynamics. Additionally, pure Cloud BI solutions like Adaptive Insights and Host Analytics do not offer live reporting off data in Dynamics since data has to be moved into the BI solution’s cloud first. This means that a product like Adaptive Insights or Host Analytics is an additional cost and training effort to the live, operational BI reporting tool that accountants require to work with real-time data from Dynamics.
The other Cloud option is a hybrid: Cloud and on-premises. As a customer using a product like Jet Reports, TargIT, ZAP, or BI360, you can choose how you want to deploy the software. There are a number of Cloud-hosting partner providers, like Tribridge’s Concerto, SMB Suite, SaaS Plaza, Data Resolution, Rose ASP, or Microsoft Azure, among many others, that will host the product as a SaaS offering, still eliminating the need for IT to manage the product.
In this hybrid category, you are able to start with an in-house BI solution and move it to the Cloud – or the other way around – when you decide that one way is better meeting your company needs than the other. Additionally, in almost all cases, a BI solution like BI360 will then be installed in the same cloud as Dynamics, which also enables live reporting – and it is quicker and easier to update data from Dynamics to the BI solution, when using an Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.
Speaking of a data storage source, if you do end up with some of your data sources or applications in the cloud and some in-house, a data warehouse becomes an important investment. In order to bring together both the on-premises and cloud data into a single repository, you will need a data warehouse to enable BI front-end applications like reports, dashboards, and data discovery. So, if Cloud computing was not unclear enough already, did I make it more difficult?
I hope not – Cloud BI options are pretty straightforward in that they are either pure Cloud or a hybrid, which tends to offer a little more flexibility. Both are set up on a SaaS pricing plan because they are hosted by a service provider. It is important to weigh the importance of live reporting and flexibility, as well as the ongoing monthly subscription fee in the context of your company goals. There are lots of things to consider, but it is worth your time as Cloud offerings continue to become more and more popular. Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review the hybrid Cloud option, BI360, as easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, budgeting and collaboration as a way to accelerate company performance management for Microsoft Dynamics.