Business Intelligence for the Cloud Provides ERP, CRM Integration Opportunity

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

The people who brought you Crystal Reports back in the day have returned with a business intelligence cloud offering that they are selling through channel partners. Solution providers get an ongoing annuity on the sale, plus can perform the integration work to hook up the cloud-based BI to the source of data -- whether its Salesforce.com, SAP, Oracle, Sage or another ERP/CRM solution.

If you’re a traditional VAR and you are looking at the potential of the cloud business model, it may be hard to see how X amount of dollars per user per month will add up to enough for your business to survive at all, let alone thrive and grow. You are used to the big sale upfront and then ongoing services after that sale.

That’s the same place Indicee executives Mark Cunningham, CEO, and Craig Todd, director of partnerships, found themselves in when they were looking to take their years of technology expertise to the cloud. Both were part of the team that created the original Crystal Reports business intelligence software. (It has since been sold to Seagate and ultimately ended up as a part of SAP.)

Business Opportunities and Threats in the Technology Cloud

They knew that business was going to the cloud. And their experience had been that channel partners are the best way to connect with end customers. The question was how to make it all work.

"The biggest single difference in what SAAS does is removes those boxes," Todd told Channel Insider. "It has initially been seen as a threat by some of our partners." That’s because they won’t get to sell those boxes anymore.

"A lot of VARs are worried about being disintermediated. Their expertise in installing software is no longer required," said Todd. "But the ones we’ve been working with the last few months see it as an opportunity."

One of those partners is Arxis Technology in Simi Valley, Calif., an ERP, CRM and BI specialist. Mark Severance, director of sales and marketing at the 25-person company that has two offices in California and also offices in Phoenix and Chicago, told Channel Insider that the revenue all evens out in the end whether the customer is deploying on-premises solutions or in-the-cloud solutions.

"The biggest thing people are having a hard time with is that you are used to the big upfront sale," he said. "But, honestly, from our perspective, if you have great products and do a great job taking care of the customer, then there’s a business model for what you do."

The annuity part of the business—where Arxis receives a commission per user per month on an ongoing basis—eventually will make up for the lack of big upfront sale, Severance said. Plus, Arxis can still offer the integration and implementation services that customers need. That likely means setting up the BI solution’s data sources, whether they are data from Salesforce.com or an internal CRM or ERP solution.

Arxis still offers the traditional on-premises CRM and ERP software sales and implementation, and currently the biggest vendor it works with is Sage. And while it also already offers a BI solution from Business Objects in both an on-premises and cloud form, Arxis recently added Indicee’s cloud-based BI solution for a few reasons. One of the big ones is that some customers may not be able to afford an on-premises-based BI solution, but a cloud-based solution makes the technology economically accessible.

Severance also noted that much of computing is moving to the cloud. It used to be that companies liked the feeling of having their server in-house and locking it in when they left for the night, he said. But now they want to access their data anytime, from anywhere, regardless of what device they are using.

Indicee’s Todd and Cunningham also noted that VARs can offer their end customers training services as well, or even services such as change management.

"There’s an exciting opportunity here for traditional VARs," Todd said. "This creates a platform that allows partners to focus on the V and A in VAR—the value add."

Indicee pricing starts at $69 per user per month. A five-user pack is priced at $150 per month. Todd said the VAR cut depends on how much work the VAR is doing to get the customer, but generally it is a 20 percent commission on sales of five packs or more, calculated monthly and paid out quarterly.

Cunningham pointed out that SAAS is a market primed for growth, with Gartner forecasting sales of $150 billion by 2013. And if solution providers are looking to get in on the cloud, business intelligence, with all the integration work required, is a lucrative place to start, he added.

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com