RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Question and Answer with PivotLink CEO Quentin Gallivan

Where is cloud computing headed?

Cloud computing has come of age, says PivotLink CEO Quentin Gallivan. Also known as software-as-a-service, SaaS is gaining traction fast as vendors pour dollars into new features and functionality. The earlier issue of security has been so thoroughly addressed, Gallivan says, that SaaS data is now as secure as it is in most on-premise systems, if not more so.

In this interview, Gallivan explains where he sees the future of cloud computing heading. He also talks about why business analysts wrestling with data integration and database modeling challenges may be ready to move from desktop or server-based analysis systems to off-premise BI tools.

BI This Week: What is cloud computing in the context of BI, and where is it headed?

Quentin Gallivan: Cloud computing is moving forward, away from a single application focus like CRM or Web analytics. What we’ll see in the near future is an alternative computing platform that will include advanced internal and external data integration and exchange. That’s because cloud computing enables a new level of analytic collaboration across departments, organizations, and extended networks. Information and analytic communities can be enabled to share or exchange data across a cloud in a secure manner.

These new cloud platforms will be the next generation of delivery for business reporting and analytics, seamlessly incorporating information from both sides of the firewall. These platforms encourage large distribution of information between trading partners, peer groups, and new business communities, all at a price that is game-changing.

Customers now expect easy, fast access to information for analysis and reporting, and they expect it from anywhere at any time. They expect their vendors to offer ways to easily configure and enable secure access to enterprise and cloud-based data sources seamlessly. Furthermore, they expect to be able to build a network easily and share information with their extended supply chain. They expect to have an interface that is easy to distribute across a wide range of users without a two-day training class, but still offers powerful investigation and ad-hoc analysis. They don’t want to set up servers, develop data warehouses or data marts, and be saddled with maintenance costs.

You’ve said that BI has been something of a laggard in terms of cloud computing. Why is that?

BI is a vast, complex category. Today’s SaaS users want systems that are easy to adopt, easy to learn, easy to deploy, and very cost effective, including in terms of IT support. That has not been the case with in-house BI solutions to date. Traditional BI software is costly to implement, carries unneeded complexity, cannot adapt rapidly to change, and doesn’t scale like it should. All of these issues are at odds with the tenets of the SaaS computing model. Putting a bloated traditional BI software stack on a cloud is not the answer.

The best BI solution stems from technology that provides robust solutions for data integration, and flexible data models that allow companies to combine data mash-ups with the advancements in user interface developments in browsers. Cloud computing leverages all these technologies in a cost-effective shared data center with technologies and architectures that are robust, reliable, secure, and horizontally scalable.

What can we expect in this coming new era of collaboration and business-to-business networking?

Google will allow an organization to quickly set up a customer-facing portal for a fee that people would have scoffed at just a year ago. Moreover, that portal can be packaged with e-mail, collaboration tools, document management, and mobile connectively. It’s a cloud platform framework ready to go, but someone needs to supply the information.

On the business data and metrics side, we see that as PivotLink’s role -- and it’s happening today with our customers and partners. What we are seeing in our customer base is information-based collaboration and analytics shared within communities and networks. Initially, we’re seeing this in the retail sector around the supply chain partner, in the food distribution network, and in health care. This is just the start of the revolution.

The next BI wave will be driven by wide distribution of information across an enterprise, and collaboration beyond a single organization, and it will all be controlled by the customer, not the vendor.

How is data integration changing with cloud computing?

Years ago, on-premise BI and data warehousing tried to tackle the issues of data integration. However, it was principally focused within the enterprise. Today, data is everywhere, on the desktop, in the enterprise data centers and more and more in cloud platforms like Salesforce and others. The cloud is where data integration should be happening because it offers the most flexibility and scale in the future.

The other big challenge is how to make data integration easier at the data management level. The answer is, you have to start with a fresh approach and rethink the problem with an eye toward simplicity, low sustaining costs, and scalability.

How do you select the right vendor, particularly for BI, from “the cloud?” Can you share some tips?

First and foremost, select a vendor whose product was born to be run as an SaaS model. They will have built their solution to take advantage of all the exciting things happening in today’s cloud-enabled, Web 2.0 world. Established BI vendors are responding to the cloud by trying to move their entire feature set to the Web -- but missing the real opportunity of rapid time-to-value, ease of use, and simplicity that have been the hallmarks of successful SaaS initiatives.

Where does PivotLink fit into this?

We are right in the center of cloud computing. We live in the cloud, monitor our customers’ activities, continuously innovate, and work closely with companies like Salesforce, Google and other leading SaaS innovators.

REI and Zones are two great examples:

%%REI’s top initiative was to improve collaboration and effectiveness through shared data. Today, they share product sales and promotional performance with store managers. REI has seen a nine percent increase in sales, 1.6 percent increase in profit margins, and over 2000 business users.

%%Zones now gives access to key business data to 400 users across the enterprise. They perform real-time financial performance, Inventory trend analysis and promotional analysis, and have seen a 50 percent increase in sales productivity, 25 percent improvement in inventory management, and a dramatic visibility into every aspect of their business.

All this has been accomplished with no capital investment and minimal IT sustaining effort. Clearly, moving to cloud computing is the future of BI.

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