Insight-as-a-Service: Finding Data Insights for Small and Medium Businesses

The Movement to Insight-as-a-Service is growing. Don't be left behind.

Research company Forrester identified the need for small- and medium-businesses to better manage and study their data in their recent report on “Insight Services.” According to Forrester, 80% of companies will utilize their data to learn more about their business through “Insight-as-a-Service (IAAS)” mechanisms in 2018.Growing a business is all about questions and answers. What are customers buying what products or services? Where and when are they buying? How quickly can your business complete operations and logistics functions based on supplier trends? How responsive is your audience to the brand communications you’re sending out on various marketing channels? What ads are performing best, and how can we replicate their success? Start looking at Insight-as-a-Service (IAAS) for the path to success.

Think of those Q&A as Queries and Data

In the IT world, these questions and answers become queries and data, and they inform modern business decision making like never before. As the business computing landscape has transitioned from the mainframe to the server to the cloud, data usage, storage, and interpretation has evolved along with it. Cloud-based architecture provides flexibility for data storage and computing power, allowing exponential increases the number of data points collected from business interactions, and supercharging our ability to extract business intelligence from combinations of relevant data points.

The Movement to Insight-as-a-Service

The move to IAAS comes at an important inflection point for big data collection and its interpretation as a key business decision making process. Data growth has outstripped the original design and abilities of legacy analytics programs and systems. New data sources like CRMs, social media presences, analytics programs, and others generate millions of more data points than their predecessor systems.  Before the availability of IAAS, small- and medium-sized businesses used simple programs like Microsoft Excel to import their data, build pivot tables and other analysis tools, and create charts and graphs to help illustrate visual patterns in their data sets. But the explosion of complex data sets and the need to analyze disparate data sources congruently means these database programs are an underpowered and antiquated solution.

What is it that makes “Insight-as-a-Service” so valuable to small- and medium-sized businesses? IAAS provides a way for businesses to get out of “Excel hell” and its siloed, software-specific data reporting. IAAS provides a flexible, multi-source input platform to produce accessible data visualizations from a wide group of data sources, called a data stack. IAAS is appealing because of its versatility and ease-of-use. Most IAAS interfaces are drag and drop with no computer programming or coding skills required, which means the business insights an IAAS provides are available to all users and departments (marketing, accounting, operations, management), even those with no technology acumen.

Understanding the Data Stack: Database vs Data Warehouse

In evaluating IAAS use, it’s important to understand the difference between a database and a data warehouse. A database, the term familiar to most users, is related information from a single application or data source. This could be all of the contacts in your Salesforce account, all of the products in your product catalog, or all of the website user data from your Google analytics report. A data warehouse, on the other hand, is the SUM of the data contained in multiple data sources or applications stored in a single place.

The data warehouse is the core component of the data stack. Data warehousing, just like inventory warehousing with physical products, is a place to store data, but not all data warehouses are created equal. Smart data warehouses are quickly becoming the favorite building block for IAAS, because they come with integrated artificial intelligence (AI) features that “learn” how data is frequently used within an organization, and optimize for those styles of usage. This means the “answers” to data queries are returned more quickly the more frequently they’re “asked.”

The Immense Value of IAAS

This ability to query many data sources and return actionable information to non-tech end users is what makes IAAS systems so valuable for small- and medium-sized users. Prior to the advent of cloud-based IAAS, systems that performed these functions were only available to those with huge IT budgets and a staff of IT professionals to oversee them. Cloud-based IAAS takes the hardware and human resource investment out of business intelligence without compromising the availability or impact of the data it provides.

IAAS systems also democratize the small- and medium-business data landscape. Everyone’s heard the saying “I can’t know what I can’t know.” The flexibility of an IAAS gives users access to their data and the insights it contains by breaking down the barriers of technology and IT skills. Businesses with IAAS are data empowered, allowing them to get answers to the business questions they ask, and helping them plan their way to future growth.


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More from Jason Harris - Evangelist at Panoply