Business Intelligence (BI) isn't for everyone. As my friend and former MongoDB colleague Joe Drumgoole has suggested, "Some things can't be simplified for the mass market, e.g., flying a plane or doing analytics."
But the cloud does promise to make BI a bit easier, at least for enterprise IT, which traditionally has been tasked with setting it up. The problem, as analyst Howard Dresner indicated, is that enterprise IT has resisted cloud BI. And while IT points to security and privacy as the reasons, the real motivation may be far less noble:
A desire to retain control.
While not surprising—everyone likes a little job security—this antipathy to the cloud may end up rendering IT obsolete.
Could I get some cloud with that BI?
In case you missed it, the cloud is a big deal. According to Gartner data, the number of virtual machines in the public cloud grew 20X in the last few years. Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman explained, "New stuff tends to go to the public cloud, while doing old stuff in new ways tends to go to private clouds."
But either way, more and more enterprise workloads are hustling into clouds:
In tandem with this growth, enterprise data increasingly lives in the cloud. This, in turn, is pushing analytics into the cloud. As Gartner analyst Joao Tapadinhas said, enterprises "will move the analytics app closer to the data," because, he continued, "As more data sources move to the cloud, it makes more sense to also adopt cloud BI solutions because that's where the data is. It's easier to connect to cloud data using a cloud solution."
Small wonder, then, that Gartner data showed 45% of surveyed enterprises looking to cloud BI solutions in 2014, up from 30% the previous three years.
Cloud isn't a panacea, of course. Ovum analyst Fredrik Tunvall cautioned, "The reality is that most BI applications used today need customization and rely on data from multiple operational sources, which is never easy or quick to set up, be it in the cloud or on-premise."
But with more data native to the cloud, companies are increasingly running cloud BI to match cloud data. In fact, according to the Wisdom of Crowds Cloud Business Intelligence Market Study, the percentage of enterprises currently using public cloud BI increased by more than 17% from 2013 to 2014, and by more than 53% since 2012.
Resisting the inevitable
Not everyone is happy about this. Take, for example, your friendly, neighborhood enterprise IT team.
Pointing to security and privacy as reasons to keep BI firmly on-premise, enterprise IT has resisted cloud BI, even as lines of business have circumvented IT to run BI applications in public clouds.
Dresner dismantled such concerns:
"If you're dealing with the end users, many understand the value of cloud BI and may already be adopting it. When you look at the IT side of the equation, typically IT is involved in large, top-down, enterprise-scale projects. They're a little more reluctant because of security and privacy, certainly, but also there's an issue around loss of control. If all of a sudden you're not managing the systems and the people associated with those systems, it fundamentally changes the nature of your role. That's oftentimes what's behind some of the concerns around security and privacy."
Even so, the concerns, and the desire to control IT adoption, persists. According to the Wisdom of Crowds Cloud Business Intelligence Market Study, just 20% of enterprises currently run cloud BI in the public cloud, with a whopping 70% saying they have no plans to do so.
But given the growth noted above, and the overall march into the cloud, that 70% seems a fanciful number. There was a time when no one would have imagined running open-source software, putting CRM data in the cloud, etc. Every time, convenience wins out, and enterprise IT loses its grip on IT assets.
Convenience is key
With more data native to the cloud, and the relative ease of deployment and management in the cloud, it's just a matter of time before BI has a cumulus address, too.
As the pace of business has increased, businesses are demanding more of IT. Gartner research director John Wheeler identified the problem: "[IT is] frightened by the latest high-profile, devastating cyber attacks - Sony, Anthem, Target, et al. So, their entry in the 'Digital Business 500' looks much like an armored car - very secure and safe, yet low on performance."
One problem with such fear is that prominent breaches like Target weren't cloud breaches at all: they were breaches of on-premise servers.
Wheeler went on to suggest what must sound like anathema to most traditional IT shops: "To finish first in digital business, security must be second."
I don't think Wheeler believes security is unimportant. Rather, he correctly highlighted the need to put agility and speed-of-business first in terms of priorities: "high on performance and fine-tuned by highly trained professionals to be safe and secure."
But first, performance.
This is what's driving interest in the cloud, and IT can either fall in line and help the line of business to succeed in the cloud, or the business will simply route around IT to get stuff done. That is already happening—83% of enterprises report unauthorized cloud adoption—and threatens the long-term relevance of IT.
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Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.