Host Analytics Touts Benefits of CPM in the Clouds

Host Analytics says its cloud pedigree gives it advantages relative to its on-premises competitors in corporate performance management.

Late last month, Host Analytics Inc. turned the clock back to early 2006 when it announced Host Analytics Business Analytics, a new cloud service that serves up a single view of an organization's operational and financial data.

On paper, its new service brings Host Analytics closer to checklist parity with on-premises tools from established heavyweights such as IBM Cognos and Oracle Hyperion, which first began promoting the benefits of a combined platform for BI and corporate performance management (CPM) more than half a decade ago -- back when the BI market looked very, very different.

Host Analytics says it isn't looking backward. It maintains that its cloud model gives it an advantage relative to its on-premises competitors.

For one thing, notes director of product marketing Alex Ortiz, the new Business Analytics service works by consuming information from other services -- be they third-party software-as-a-service (SaaS) feeds, feeds from complementary Host Analytics services, or any other service-aware or service-enabled resource. This isn't in itself noteworthy: competitive offerings have touted at least nominal service-enablement or service-awareness for half a decade, too.

Competitive offerings weren't designed expressly for the cloud, Ortiz argues. There's a difference, he claims, between being architected for the loosely-coupled world of SaaS and -- as is the case with Host Analytics' on-premises competitors -- retrofitting existing interfaces to be service-enabled.

"We've been building toward this for a while," says Ortiz, citing last year's introduction of its Host Analytics Decision Hub service. "This can actually pull external data into an internal process -- for example, benchmark info from EDGAR online, or economic indicators, KPIs, exchange rates, things like that. That's really how we're now harnessing the proliferation of data outside of the organization -- within the Decision Hub."

Besides, Ortiz contends, Host Analytics has a built-in advantage when it comes to competing against IBM, Oracle, SAP, and other large players on its own turf -- i.e., in the cloud, where, he says, a robust combination of BI and CPM doesn't yet exist. Many consumers of cloud services are unable or unwilling to tap an on-premises offering to address their needs, so there's a built-in market for SaaS CPM. "We're the first and only cloud vendor to combine CPM and BI into an application for finance. How we're doing it is by connecting to [cloud or SaaS] apps that are currently siloed in different departments, so Salesforce in sales, Marketo in marketing."

Challenging Suites

Host Analytics started out as a corporate performance management specialist -- with a twist. Instead of pushing an on-premises approach to CPM, it pitched CPM-as-a-service.

Given that CPM involves a company's most sensitive data, this kind of pitch had its detractors. Half a decade ago, in fact, the success of a venture like Host Analytics seemed questionable. After all, five or six years ago, the triumph of the giant suite players -- Cognos Inc. (not yet a part of IBM Corp.), Business Objects SA (not yet a part of SAP AG), and Hyperion Solutions Corp. (not yet a part of Oracle Corp.) -- seemed all but assured.

At that time, many in the industry thought that standardization on a single suite for business intelligence (BI) and corporate performance management (CPM) was inevitable. Although some did ring alarms about the disruptive potential of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and other emerging paradigms.

Today, claims Keri Brooke, vice president of marketing with Host Analytics, standardization isn't a primary emphasis. One upshot of this, she claims, is that Host Analytics is increasingly displacing ensconced BI and CPM platforms.

"What I've seen over the last 18 months is a movement of those larger organizations who probably have had an incumbent on-premises application on site are looking to Host Analytics to provide them with the same functionality, but using cloud technology," she argues. "The majority [of these] are actually replacement [scenarios]. [At the] Mayo Clinic, we replaced Hyperion Enterprise. They [Mayo] did evaluate all of the Web-based applications, including Hyperion and IBM [Cognos], and they selected us."

A Private Matter?

Just as on-premises players have come to the cloud, cloud players have made some gestures in the direction of on-premises solutions. Hybrid deployments, for example, mix internal cloud resources (deployed in the context of a private or enterprise cloud) with external cloud capacity, usually served up by a hosting provider or by a SaaS vendor itself.

Host Analytics doesn't currently offer -- and doesn't plan to offer -- a hybrid cloud option, maintains CEO Jon Kondo. "It's another debate that we do have. Technically, it would not be hard for us to do that at all. We have not, however, and we've remained true to our SaaS nature [in not doing so]," he explains. "We actually had a couple of instances where the customer said, 'We're either going to do a hybrid model or we're not going to do it' [i.e., subscribe to Host Analytics]."

In one such case, Kondo continues, "We said 'No,' and ultimately they came back to us. Ultimately, they've been a very happy customer."

On the other hand, at least one BI vendor that started out as a SaaS-in-the-cloud-only option -- namely, predictive analytics specialist Predixion Software -- recently announced support for hybrid deployments. CEO Simon Arkell cites several reasons -- among them, policy or regulatory mandates, the sensitivity of data, and lingering concerns about security -- as Predixion's reason for its action. Some scenarios simply and irreducibly require internal deployments, Arkell notes.

A consultant and data warehouse architect who's familiar with several private cloud DW deployments is more aligned with Kondo's thinking. This person (who spoke on condition of anonymity) concedes, however, that regulatory or performance issues can make a private cloud at least seem like a good pragmatic alternative.

"Private cloud is a non-starter for me," says this industry veteran, who has a known association with at least one prominent hybrid DW deployment. "Yes, sometimes regulations make it necessary, and yes, databases [don't perform very well] in the cloud, but installing gear on-site, managing it, etc. is every bit as expensive and painful as [it is in] the traditional model. In essence, there's a man behind the curtain."