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When it comes to software as a service, there are plenty of analytic options. But as with on-premises applications, the line between transactional and analytic apps blurs.
SaaS providers like Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and Workday serve up lots of analytics, but in most cases the analytics are built into transactional apps and workflows, an increasingly common approach with on-premises applications, too. NetSuite has separate financial, CRM, and e-commerce analytic modules, but industry-specific analytic apps aren't common from ERP and CRM SaaS vendors.
When the analytics required are more sophisticated or industry-specific, Salesforce, NetSuite, and Workday, as well as major on-premises vendors, are likely to send you to partners. Salesforce's AppExchange is loaded with partner apps, and has specific tabs for "sales intelligence" and "service intelligence" apps. Some are simple add-ons, others are rich, SaaS-based analytic apps that integrate with Salesforce.
SaaS BI vendors are another option for service-based analytics, like Birst, Cloud9 Analytics, Oco (recently acquired by Deloitte), PivotLink, and SAP's BI OnDemand service. Some of these vendors offer industry-specific data models and analytic dashboards and reports. Oco, for instance, has nine analytic applications, including apps for customer experience and transportation analysis.
SAP's online BI service has more than 200,000 subscribers, thanks mostly to legacy CrystalReports.com users, but SaaS-based BI hasn't seen breakout growth the way CRM has. That's probably because BI and analytics don't stand alone; they have to be about something, usually transactions handled by ERP, CRM, or a line-of-business apps. SaaS-based BI has proven to be more successful as an add on to services-based applications such as Salesforce.com.
A final option--and the hidden giant in this crowd--is services-based analytics. These providers let you forget about the application altogether. Just give them your data, and they'll return the analytics.
Nielsen and Acxiom provide this service (mostly for marketing) as an extension of their data services. IHS takes geospatial and engineering data from oil and gas companies and returns reports on risks, well and production forecasts, and market forecasts.
"It's a $1 billion-plus industry that has popped up all around us," says Greg Todd, executive director of technology for Accenture Analytics. There are many examples of specialized services, Todd notes, and Accenture and others are "gearing up to deliver analytics as a service in the cloud."
Where a prebuilt app may give you a head start in the race to develop analytics, cloud-based services might just transport you right to the finish line.