Viewpoints

SaaS technology: Put the 'intelligence' back in business intelligence

By Erin Latham

Technology has come a long way since the days of snail mail and the shrill sounds of fax machines. Remember when the best interoffice communication tool was scribbling a note on a piece of paper, folding it into the shape of a football and “punting” it across the room? 

Our ability to disseminate all types of government data has become much more efficient, and one would think local and state institutions would take advantage of this technology for their business intelligence projects. But, unfortunately, many of these organizations are still relying on cumbersome, expensive tools rather than embracing the benefits of cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) tech solutions.

Out With the Old (Un)intelligence

Seventy to 80 percent of BI projects fail. Most commonly, these undertakings lack executive support and fail to achieve a consistent level of data integrity.

Worse, traditional BI tools tend to be expensive and require the undivided attention of a local government’s IT staff. They need to be manually installed on each on-site computer, and because they’re so complex, IT needs to stay involved through the project’s duration.

The workers who should be using these tools to create vital BI reports many times can’t even figure out how. So to avoid these inconveniences, cities and states will opt for quick and cheap workarounds that involve compiling data into Excel spreadsheets. But the manual nature of this method makes it error-prone — not to mention time-consuming and dull. Once a report is finally complete, much of the data could be outdated.

One other popular workaround is to use a vendor-supplied reporting tool that runs on the same hardware as the source data system. This approach, while quick, is extremely limited. These tools often have predefined views that mask the complexity of municipal data, leaving little room for analysis or comparing data sets.

As a result, city and state managers are getting only limited high-level insight into complex data sets, and they desperately need an option that will help them make better, faster decisions to benefit their citizens.

In With the New Intelligence

Cloud-based SaaS solutions are typically licensed to local governments on a subscription basis. The SaaS provider handles the hardware and software maintenance and upgrades, and the cloud technology can be used from any location. It can also be modified to support additional demand and applications. 

Perhaps the biggest advantage of cloud-based SaaS solutions is their lower overall cost. IT staffs are less involved throughout the life of the project because the burden of maintenance and additional hardware is off their shoulders. Subscription-based pricing also reduces expenses because it can be more easily configured to a client’s needs and the public sector’s funding cycle. In just the first year of using a SaaS solution, institutions could save upward of $125,000 in infrastructure, labor, and software costs. 

SaaS technologies also save time. Many come prepackaged with the public sector’s needs in mind, even including best practices road maps, business requirement reporting, and prebuilt data extraction and collection capabilities. They ensure data integrity and better data analysis, allowing city and state governments to finally use solutions specifically designed for their exact needs rather than waste time searching for clunky workarounds.

This results in much quicker data collection, analysis, and distribution. By running one consolidated, comprehensive report (rather than combining multiple reports from multiple platforms), government offices can streamline what was once a several-month ordeal into a quick and accurate automated process.

By 2018, the cloud-based BI market is projected to increase by 31 percent, partly because organizations everywhere need affordable solutions — not just tools — that address their unique challenges and requirements.

Governments at all levels collect vast amounts of data, and these organizations have two ways to handle it: They can continue to report using traditional methods that are costly, time-consuming, and ultimately ineffective, or they can capitalize on cloud-based SaaS solutions.

It’s time to put the “intelligence” back into business intelligence.

Erin Latham founded Mo’mix Solutions to deliver software and services that drive better outcomes for the public sector and education. She’s served as a technology government adviser focused on ERP, budget, business intelligence, and open data/transparency solutions to local and state governments and higher education organizations for more than 15 years.

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