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Verachtert: In the cloud with your analysis
Your data is your company's most valuable asset, its analysis provides crucial information. A little outside help here, business intelligence or BI therefore, seems more than welcome in function of your decisions. And why not rely on external infrastructure? Literally. Yet online business intelligence still in its infancy. CFO Magazine spoke with Belgian SMEs Verachtert, which implemented a so-called cloud solution for its Business Intelligence.
In parallel with the rise of business intelligence, another trend is emerging: cloud computing. It is currently the hype in the IT sector, but at the same time, cloud computing is a term that covers many fields. Indeed, it is the collective name for all models where IT is placed outside the company walls. So it is as much about software, about storage or processing power as over your entire IT infrastructure which is rented for some time. Business intelligence and cloud seems a logical marriage, according to Stijn Vermeulen of element61, a BI service provider. As with other forms of cloud computing, the often cited advantages of cloud computing also apply to BI. The financial threshold for the hefty initial investment can be replaced by a periodic amount based on monthly consumption for example. From capex to opex in other words. Also around maintenance, configuration and deployment, many headaches are eliminated as the responsibility lies with the service provider.
The creation of such critical reporting was previously non-existent at Verachtert. Parameters that were built include the customer, the product, the representative, sales, margin and purchase. Through a tree - from product to product group - a structure was implemented to see sales volume and margin. "You also have to choices in business intelligence. You can collect and analyse a lot of data, but you have to focus on the data that really matters. You should critically examine your own data structure and adjust the scope of your analysis accordingly. Moreover, you should opt for a flexible solution for the future. Through cloud computing, you can start small and then gradually expand without having to worry about the necessary hardware." The reports of the managers at Verachtert are consulted in a so-called browser environment, the application such as Internet Explorer that you are using to surf on the internet." That is useful, because a lot of our employees work abroad. In addition to the standardized reporting, Verachtert can also use cubes for further analysis of data. This makes it possible to analyse for example remarkable profit drops using a multi-dimensional analysis. "That makes ad-hoc combinations of dimensions possible, while reporting is mostly standard" he explains.
Yet many BI providers are shifting their application more and more to the cloud. That is also shown by announcements of other and smaller providers like MicroStrategy that come with such applications on the market. For the technology of the seven SMEs in the study of Lessius, the technology chosen was either Microsoft or IBM. Verachtert opted for technology from Microsoft (Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services) . "Because it was important to have an end-to-end technology. Both the traditional ETL component and the data warehouse are hereby in the cloud and therefore no longer with the company itself" says Hans Tubbax of Lessius Hogeschool. "The interface with the user is either the browser or Microsoft Excel, an application that is well known by most managers. With the advantage that you can retrieve data from the cloud using Excel. So you connect in other words with external data. This provides an answer to the traditional drawback of Excel, as the data often sits in the spreadsheets of the individual users." Despite all this beauty, it will still take time before cloud BI or BI as a service actually will become the standard. The technology and the demand from the market actually is still in its infancy.
"We had only considered in the cloud BI within a few years for our company. Remember that our ERP package was only implemented recently in our organization. But thanks to this project, we came in contact with it quickly and are happy with it" says Rombouts. Moreover it goes beyond technology. Not every manager is eager to migrate his company data, the highest good, externally to the cloud for analyses. A traditional reason that Tubbax counters with an equally traditional argument. "Habits are difficult to get rid of. But people do not have a problem with online banking or Tax-on -web, which are essentially cloud solutions. You would think that your data is more secure at a third party provider. A party that is better adjusted to the management, security and analysis of the data than the customers themselves."