The majority of business software applications are still installed locally on desktops. Administrators will have tools for ETL and data quality processes while developers will have tools for managing reports and building dashboards. The software required for each of these processes is typically very expensive and also designed for big data companies. These characteristics often make business intelligence less accessible for small or medium sized companies.
A realistic solution for smaller companies to consider is BI software as a service, also known as on-demand BI or cloud BI. SaaS is offered by vendors on a pay as you go plan rather than purchasing an annual license. Companies like Panorama and GoodData are now offering cloud hosted BI software as a cost effective solution for smaller businesses. Your company may already be using other cloud based applications. If this is the case then you already know that this alternative requires far less investment with minimal up-front costs. An additional cost saving factor is that SaaS does not require an on-site administrator to maintain software, which will save your company in labor costs.
There are several implications to consider when choosing SaaS BI for your business. A concern for many managers is that hosting data on the cloud means that secure data will be sent outside the company firewall. BI SaaS is sometimes a simplified version of traditional BI software. This means that functionality may be limited or features may be difficult to use. SaaS is often less scalable and BI SaaS may not be able to grow with your company if your data needs change drastically.
It is common for companies to offer free online demos of their BI SaaS. I recommend taking a test drive with the software before making a decision. It would be most beneficial for you to upload some of your actual data and conduct a trial data analysis using the software. You may find that BI SaaS meets all of your data needs, or you may wish to pursue a more traditional BI approach.