May 20, 2022

Business Intelligence in the Cloud (SaaS) vs. On-Premises

Nazim Foufa
Marketing Content Specialist
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Business Intelligence in the Cloud (SaaS) vs. On-Premises

Today’s teams have many choices when it comes to business intelligence (BI) tools. To simplify the decision, it’s helpful to first consider whether you want to go with a SaaS business intelligence solution (which lives in the cloud) or an on-premises option. While on-premises tools have been standard for decades, skyrocketing adoption of the cloud has transformed what teams can accomplish with data analytics. Here’s what you need to know when evaluating business intelligence tools.

What is SaaS Business Intelligence?

Before we dive in, let’s define what SaaS business intelligence is exactly. SaaS is software that’s hosted on cloud servers rather than on servers located on the premises of a company’s physical location. SaaS analytics tools are offered on a subscription model, and because they take advantage of the cloud’s scalability and flexibility, they are incredibly economical — pricing is based on resource usage. SaaS software can be accessed by any authorized user from any device, in any location, making it ideal for today’s remote workforce.  

SaaS BI vs. On-Premises BI

Cloud-based SaaS business intelligence tools were developed in response to the evolution of the cloud data warehouse (CDW). Business intelligence teams wanted to take full advantage of the capabilities of their CDWs — more data storage, greater computer power, and convenient one-click integrations.

Initially, business intelligence tools built for on-premises data warehouses were modified to work with CDWs. But because they weren’t designed for the cloud, they had notable limitations. Namely, they were unable to take advantage of the data velocity capabilities of the cloud since they relied on data extracts that open up security and governance liabilities. Additionally, they operated under the assumption that users were highly-technical data experts who were responsible for creating reports for business decision-makers. There was no way for users who didn’t know SQL to drill down into the underlying data to answer follow-up questions, creating an endless queue of report requests.

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SaaS solutions solve this problem by fully integrating with CDWs and capturing their potential, without relying on data extracts. These tools aim to be self-service, but some still require significant training and technical skills to create additional dashboards or answer deeper questions like why trends are happening. Others, like Sigma, are built to allow non-technical business users lightly trained in data skills to use spreadsheet-like tools (that are far more powerful than a standard spreadsheet) to query vast repositories of data in the CDW on their own. They can ask important follow-up questions and get the insights they need when they need them — no code required. Technical staff can focus on vetting data, training business users on analytics best practices, and helping users with especially-complex queries.

As the constraints of on-premises solutions hold back teams who want to be data-driven, more and more companies are migrating to SaaS business intelligence solutions to take full advantage of the cloud’s flexibility, implement better data policies, and enable their organizations with self-service analytics.

6 Benefits of SaaS Business Intelligence

Let’s take a deeper look at the many advantages of SaaS business intelligence solutions.

  • Arrive at insights faster.
    One of the biggest benefits of cloud-native business intelligence tools is speed to insights. Since non-technical business users can query the data themselves without using SQL, they can quickly generate ad hoc reports. When teams can quickly take action informed by data, they can be more agile, immediately capturing opportunities for a competitive advantage and solving problems before they become severe.
  • Break down silos.
    Modern cloud data warehouses are able to quickly ingest and process structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data from varying sources. Tools like Fivetran make it simple to quickly connect to data sets, without getting IT involved. And SaaS business intelligence solutions that sit on top of the CDW allow users to access multiple data sources from a single location.
  • Collaborate more efficiently.
    For a company to be truly data-driven, teams must collaborate with one another. Marketing, Sales, Customer Success, Product, Finance, and Operations all have unique perspectives on business questions and a distinct understanding of the data relevant to their business area. When teams can share interactive dashboards and analyses with others in a secure manner, they can build upon one another’s work and get a fuller picture of the issue at hand.
  • Improve security and data governance.
    Modern cloud data warehouses offer granular controls that allow companies to ensure only those who should see a particular data set are able to. SaaS business intelligence solutions that sit on top of the CDW don’t require data extracts — so they preserve the incredible security capabilities of the CDW. Additionally, SaaS business intelligence tools facilitate tracking who has accessed data and when, which is invaluable for compliance.
  • Scale easily as needed.
    With cloud-native tools, there’s no need to commit to any specific level of resources — you can pay for exactly what you need when you need it. If your storage or processing requirements slow down seasonally, you can scale down accordingly. Or, if you see an opportunity that calls for additional large data sets, you can quickly scale up.
  • Increase ROI.
    Better ROI comes as a result of using data to inform more decisions. Because cloud-native tools enable teams to glean insights quickly and without bottlenecks due to IT dependence, even small day-to-day decisions can be based on data. Better decisions in every area of business directly translate to a more profitable company. Additionally, organizations that use a cloud BI stack also benefit from reduced costs as they scale storage and processing capability up or down as needed while reducing security-related costs.

SaaS Business Intelligence Solutions Are the Future

The cloud has much to offer for data storage, processing, security, and self-service analytics. Using a SaaS business intelligence tool allows you to take advantage of your cloud data warehouse’s capabilities and access insights quickly, capturing the competitive advantage you need to reach your company’s goals.

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