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Cloud business intelligence tools offer SQL Azure Reporting alternatives

SQL Azure Reporting’s limitations may disappoint some customers, but solution providers can step in and offer other cloud business intelligence tools.

Sometimes, built-in tools don’t cut it. In the case of SQL Azure Reporting, customers may ask about a better tool...

for analyzing their data, especially if that data resides outside of SQL Azure, Microsoft's cloud database service. Solution providers can help customers find a good fit in an alternative cloud business intelligence tool.

Indeed, SQL Azure Reporting, Microsoft’s foray into cloud business intelligence (BI), has a significant drawback: Reports can only retrieve data from SQL Azure databases. There are other limitations, including a lack of support for subscriptions, scheduled deliveries or Windows Authentication.

Solution providers can help customers determine which cloud business intelligence tool will work best for their needs...

These drawbacks are enough cause to look for alternative BI services. Either that, or invest in the resources necessary to move all of a company’s data into a SQL Azure database -- an option not particularly attractive to many organizations, even if they’re already SQL Server converts.

Solution providers can help customers determine which cloud business intelligence tool will work best for their needs and provide services around customizing these tools to produce useful custom reports.

Cloud business intelligence has its advantages

Like any cloud-based tool, BI services have been touted for their flexibility and cost-effectiveness. Organizations of all sizes have access to vast computing and storage resources without having to invest in costly and time-consuming onsite infrastructure.

BI projects can be expensive endeavors, when you take into account the infrastructure and IT resources necessary to support them. With cloud business intelligence services, business users don’t have to rely on IT to set up equipment, generate reports, create dashboards or perform other tasks integral to implementing and supporting such a project. Customers can also save on hardware infrastructure costs.

Cloud business intelligence services allow businesses to acquire the resources necessary to deliver reports when they need them, while paying only for the services they require at the time. This model lets decision-makers respond quickly to changing trends and produce reports that target specific users. As a result, rather than having to implement large, complex projects, organizations can take a piecemeal approach to BI. Managed service providers and cloud providers can set up these solutions for their customers and offer the reports or the BI solution as a service, helping even small businesses take advantage of powerful amounts of data.

Cloud business intelligence can also be an effective solution for geographically dispersed organizations because these services generally deliver better performance worldwide, compared to an on-premises application, which is often restricted to a single location. Most cloud-based services have data centers available in various locations around the world. Consequently, a global infrastructure is available to any organization using the BI services, which can go a long way in eliminating many of the network bottlenecks inherent in an in-house solution.

Cloud business intelligence is already here

You don’t have to go far to find companies that offer cloud business intelligence services. GoodData Corp. provides a platform that lets customers load and transform data and generate analytical reports. Its services also include collaboration features that let team members work together remotely to analyze and transform data. And its operational dashboards can deliver reports and key metrics based on data from a variety of sources, including cloud-based systems, data integration platforms and on-premises resources.

Another company that offers cloud business intelligence services is Indicee Inc. Its platform includes an application programming interface (API) that lets developers embed complex analytics into their applications that build custom dashboards and reports. The API makes it possible to import and synchronize data that originates from different types of structured files, SQL feeds and other APIs.

PivotLink Corp. also offers cloud business intelligence services through its PivotLink 5 platform, which can deliver reports to mobile devices such as Apple’s iPad, Android phones and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, making analytic solutions available to remote workers across the globe. The mobile apps available on these platforms provide visual reports based on data from a variety of structured and unstructured data sources.

But just because such services are available doesn’t mean that cloud-based BI is the best alternative for your customers. Solution providers can help customers understand the inherent risk in the loss of control over data. In addition, BI solutions often require a high-degree of customization that makes it necessary to invest significant resources in developing framework for getting meaningful information, even if a BI service is used. But if you can work around such limitations, a cloud-based service can help customers deliver effective BI reporting.

About the author
Robert Sheldon is a technical consultant and freelance technology writer. He's authored numerous books, articles and training material related to Windows, databases, business intelligence and other areas of technology. He's also published the novel Dancing the River Lightly and the step-by-step guide Ebook Now, and has recently begun working on the 5-Spot ebook travel series. 

This was last published in May 2012

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