Business Intelligence and On-Demand: The Perfect Marriage?

Both established vendors and upstarts now offer BI applications as on-demand services. And more customers are saying yes to faster deployment times, less onerous IT demands and speedier access to reporting data.

By Thomas Wailgum
Thu, March 27, 2008

CIO — Ask Dennis Hernreich, COO and CFO of Casual Male Retail Group, what his life was like before he switched to an on-demand business intelligence reporting application, and he remembers the frustration all too easily.

Casual Male Retail Group, a specialty retailer of big and tall men's apparel with $464 million in annual sales, was using a legacy on-premise reporting application for its catalog operations. (The company also has 520 retail outlets and e-commerce operations.) But the reporting features built into the system were "extremely poor," as Hernreich describes them: "Visibility to the business? Terrible. Real-time information? Doesn't exist. How are we doing with certain styles by size? Don't know."

"It was unacceptable," Hernreich says. And viewing those "canned" BI reports (which lacked features such as exception reporting) could happen only with making a trip to the printer for a stack of printouts. "It was hundreds of pages," he recalls. "That's just not how you operate today."

It's not like Casual Male didn't have all this information; it just didn't have an intuitive and easy way to get at its catalog business's sales and inventory trends in real-time. But that changed in 2004, when Casual Male began using a on-demand BI tool from vendor Oco, which takes all of Casual Male's data, builds and maintains a data warehouse for it offsite, and creates "responsive, real-time reporting dashboards that give us and our business users information at their fingertips," Hernreich says.

Today, Hernreich and Casual Male's merchandise planners and buyers have access to easy-to-consume dashboards chock-full of catalog data: "What styles are selling today. How much inventory are we selling today. Where are we short. Where do we need to order. How are we selling by size. What are we out of stock in," he says. "All of these basic questions, in terms of running the business—that's what we're learning every day from these reports."

And those annoying trips to the printer have ended.

On-Demand Fears Linger

Casual Male Retail Group is part of the small (but growing) percentage of businesses using on-demand or software-as-a-service (SaaS) BI tools, which can be deployed at a much faster pace and with much less initial cost than traditional on-premise software installations.

"To go from nothing to a fully automated system in a matter of weeks is an incredible sell for any company—large or small," says Scott Cohenford, a senior analyst at RapidAdvance, a provider of cash advances to small and midsize businesses, who led his company's efforts to purchase Business Object's OnDemand platform.

Note that Cohenford is not an IT person by title or pedigree (he has an accounting background): ease of use (setup, integration, training) is a major selling point to on-demand BI customers. "I was tasked with reviewing the different options out there, seeing how quickly we could move forward with the solutions and do so at a low cost and automate as much as possible," Cohenford says. "And that's what pushed me into the SaaS world's BI tools."

Continue Reading

Our Commenting Policies