As many of my readers know, for years I’ve been quite skeptical about non-mainstream BI solutions, such as BI SaaS. Security, control, operational risk, data, metadata and application integration are just some of the requirements for enterprise BI that are still on my watch list as potential reasons to be weary about BI SaaS. However, I am also a very pragmatic analyst and truly believe that nothing but supply and demand drive the markets.  And I am now, slowly but surely, beginning to believe there couldn’t be a better case for demand for BI SaaS especially after findings from one of the project that I am currently conducting. I recently talked to a few dozen non-IT professionals (specifically in front office roles, such as sales and marketing) across multiple industries, regions and company sizes. Guess how many of them fully or partially relied on IT for their day to day operational and strategic information needs? BIG FAT ZERO!!! This finding was a huge surprise to me – yes, I did expect to find something like less then 50% reliance on IT, but I surely did not expect to find 0%. It is truly amazing that after 30 or so years of BI software, services and solutions vendors and internal IT organizations making a strong push and a case for BI, they are still not even making a dent in the front offices. What are the reasons? Among many others, sales and marketing folks that I interviewed are citing being low on IT priority list (why???), IT not speaking their language, high cost, inflexibility of company standard BI solutions, lag times to roll something out – and the list goes on and on and on. So what’s a sales or a marketing professional to do? Fortunately, they do have options. I am sure you all know what their option #1 is. Yes, you guessed it – Excel. But while Excel remains and will continue to remain for the foreseeable future #1 BI tool, it does have lots of limitations, and all of the business folks I talked to are looking for something that has more pre-built BI solutions, can handle gigabytes (and eventually terabytes) of data, and is more Web 2.0 and collaborative than Excel. Many BI SaaS vendors indeed provide just that. Is BI SaaS a panacea to all these issues and challenges? Absolutely not. My concerns cited at the beginning of this blog still need to be addressed. Chief among them is the financial viability and long term survivability of BI SaaS vendors, since most of them are tiny, startup companies. So how do you short list a BI SaaS company and mitigate your risks? First consider some soft differentiations. While these are hard to verify, and may or may not directly correlate and contribute to ultimate vendor success, these are a good starting point (or ending point, to put the final touches on your evaluation) to begin shortlisting your BI SaaS choices: VC backing. Is the firm backed by a VC with good track record in information management space? 

Next, proceed to evaluating hard facts. These have to be easily verifiable, and will most probably directly contributes to the ultimate success of a vendor:

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