Data, quite often, is at the heart of virtually any business decision made. Being able to utilize the right data at the right time -- and fast -- is paramount, particularly in today's real-time-focused culture. Looking to add more functionality and provide an on-demand option to companies looking to act quickly, software-as-a-service (SaaS) business intelligence (BI) provider Birst unveils its latest solution, Birst 4, which it trumpets as "the comprehensive cloud BI suite."
According to Brad Peters, chief executive officer of Birst, his company's roots in on-demand enable it to be more nimble in prioritizing updates for its customer base, but also keeps its eye on growing market trends. "Our goal is been to be able to provide the full set of business intelligence capabilities in an on-demand fashion," he says. "When you look at the suites of other vendors ... we knew that we had a few product categories that were missing."
One of the most important pieces, and now included in Birst 4, is an advanced extract, transform, and load (ETL) service. Formerly, Birst customers could utilize ETL Services as an automated feature, but now can customize it to meet particular corporate and analytical requirements on their own.
Another differentiating new feature is Live Access -- the newest addition to Birst Data Services -- which enables organizations to utilize pre-existing data warehouses directly to Birst's analytical capabilities without having to upload data. Peters says this solves a common presumption about SaaS BI solutions that gives many potential buyers pause. "Many thought that you had to load data into the cloud to make it useful," he says. "Pretty much every other SaaS solution, including Salesforce.com's, you have to do this. For data volumes too large, you don't want to load it into the cloud."
With Live Access, Birst can analyze data behind company firewalls in combination with other uploaded sources, including spreadsheets and uploaded databases. "It allows us to do something comparable to others behind-the-firewall BI solutions," Peters says. "You can leave data where it sits -- you don't have to move it all into the cloud."
Dan Vesset, program vice president of IDC's business analytics research group, explainsthat this capability is a major differentiating point in Birst 4. "By combining data from different sources, it allows people to work the way they want to work," he says. "So there's more control given to the business user in how to combine data. The fact that you can mix and match which data you keep on-premises and what you ship out and make available as SaaS stands out."
Other new features in Birst 4 include:
- a fully integrated reporting environment;
- upgraded dashboards placing the control back into line-of-business users rather than IT; and
- Birst Application Template for Salesforce, including a data connector, metadata, and a set of standard reports for Salesforce CRM users as well as the ability to combine it with data from other sources, such as spreadsheets, databases, or other operational applications.
Peters believes his company's main point of competitive differentiation lies in its integrated SaaS product, and all of the benefits the model can traditionally deliver to users including lower up-front cost and quicker time to implementation (and consequently measuring return on investment). "Eighty to 90 percent of the cost of BI is implementation time and human costs," Peters insists. "There are many possibilities for errors and failure across integration points, and a lot of expense involved in setting it up on your own. Other companies give you a kit to build a car; we just giveyou the car."
Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies, explains Birst is capitalizing on growing interest in cloud alternatives to traditional on-premises software and systems. "Birst is also making a big bet on customer willingness to adopt a fully cloud-based BI solution," he points out. "In order to succeed, the company will have to convince customers not only that it can offer the functionality they want at a cost-effective price, but that their data is safe and secure."
Bearing that in mind, Kaplan believes the company is taking the proper steps to eliminate those concerns -- particularly with the addition of Live Access. "It is permitting customers to connect their on-premise[s] data warehouse to its analytic engine without having to give up their data to the vendor," he adds. "This should alleviate many of the fears regarding data security, privacy, and ownership."
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