Cloud-based data analytics levels the BI playing field

Big data analytics offers vital BI, but SMBs and startups without the money and staff are missing out. Cloud-based tools can level the playing field.

Enterprise IT has found the business intelligence value of big data, but SMBs and startups without money or staff have missed out on the benefits of data analytics.

Analyzing petabytes and exabytes of unstructured data on-premises requires significant overhead. Companies need the staff, resources and time to prepare the data for analytics -- before it's even ready to be mined for business intelligence (BI). As a result, smaller businesses, particularly those in the start-up phase, don't have access to intelligence that could enhance the business.

The signal was hidden in the data. ... The problem was nobody was looking. That was a forehead slapping, 'Oh my God' moment.

John W. Rodat,
President, Public Signals

Cloud computing, with its minimal overhead and upfront costs, could level the playing field.

"Cloud-based tools lower the barriers to entry [by] creating readily understandable graphics for complex, data rich topics," said Dan Sullivan principal of DS Applied Technologies, LLC. "Now businesses and organizations of any size have access to visualizations that were once limited to experts and deep pocketed enterprises."

This certainly seems to the be the case for customers of New York-based Public Signals, a data consulting start-up that provides BI to local government agencies.

Though he works with some New York-based agencies that have the capital, such as Nassau County, John W. Rodat, president of Public Signals, also has much smaller clients without the resources to mine massive amounts of public data. Such is the case for one of his customers, the manager of a county near the Canadian border.

"Even though he is analytically inclined, he does not have the time and he does not have the staff to do the kind of analyses that he would like to do because it involves getting the data, cleaning the data, structuring the data -- all the foundational stuff," Rodat said.

Public Signals uses the cloud data visualization tool Tableau Online from Tableau Software to analyze and report on data to its government customers.

The answer is in the big data

Rodat started Public Signals while working in the public service in New York; he had heard a rumor about the financial downfall of the wealthy Nassau County. Surprised to see the economic failings of one of the most historically affluent counties, he searched back in public data to see how long it would take him to find a signal that marked the downturn and how far back that signal was.

"The answers were three minutes and nine years," said Rodat.

Using public data, Rodat worked to clean, structure and analyze the information to find important intelligence. But it took an "enormous" amount of time.

"The signal was hidden in the data," Rodat said. "The problem was nobody was looking. That was a forehead slapping, 'Oh my God' moment. And it was also the inspiration for what I'm doing now."

Using cloud-based Tableau Online, Rodat presents this information to many government agencies in New York to help eliminate the problems that occurred in Nassau County.

But a crucial part of Public Signal's strategy is cloud-enabled collaboration.

"My business is by definition about many organizations that have the same data, and so for me, the only way to do it efficiently is in the cloud," Rodat said. "I couldn't have done this any other way that wouldn't have been a colossal pain in the backside."

The cloud-based analytics and visualization tool allows Public Signals to compare data across counties and agencies in New York, so public officials can make business decisions in context, rather than in isolation.

"Visualizations are essential to quickly communicating detailed relationships and other findings," Sullivan said. "Access to cloud-based visualization tools that provide more than basic bar and pie chart visualizations offer a way to better way to communicate challenging topics of interest to the public."

Tableau Online is available at a rate of $500 per user, per year. Tableau Software also offers a desktop tool, Tableau Professional, which can be used primarily or in conjunction with Tableau Online for a hybrid approach.

A similar visualization service is available from QlikView. Both tools compete with BI vendors such as IBM (Cognos), MicroStrategy, Inc. and Tibco Software, Inc. (Spotfire).

Caitlin White is site editor for SearchCloudComputing. Contact her at cwhite@techtarget.com.

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