From the smallest home office business to the largest enterprise, the amount of data that businesses accumulate continues to grow. Using that information effectively is often challenging because users do not possess the tools or the knowledge on how to make the most of their data.
Small and even mid-sized enterprises often lack the resources to acquire BI tools, skills and training when compared to larger enterprises. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to competing and, more importantly, gaining a better insight to their business and market.
According to a recent press release TIBCO Silver Spotfire is targeted at the SME as "a fully functional on-demand offering designed to enable anyone to create,publish and share custom dashboards or reports for business analytics and business intelligence (BI) in the Cloud."
For the first year, those companies who want to try this can get free access to TIBCO Silver Spotfire. It comes with an authoring client and expansive web-based sharing and hosting for the user's favourite personal or business Spotfire application. After the year is up, TIBCO says that there will be a range of monthly hosting options for those who want to continue using the product.
TIBCO also describes this as not just BI as Software as a Service (SaaS) but as "social BI". The idea is that individuals can quickly create and share information across the business as part of an ad-hoc corporate analytics knowledge base. Any data created through TIBCO Silver Spotfire can also be integrated into a range of social media, blogs and online articles.
At the heart of all of this is the TIBCO Silver Cloud Computing platform on which the company has now made provision for Spotfire users which was updated in May 2010 as a hosted platform for TIBCO customers along with the Silver Spotfire beta.
A free one year subscription will be attractive to many customers. However, it is important to note that this is not the full Spotfire Enterprise product that TIBCO sells but a reduced functionality product. Customers who want to move to the full Enterprise version later will be able to do so and, at the same time, pull in the work that they have published on Silver Spotfire.
TIBCO is very clear about the target audience here. This is about extending the reach of BI into small companies, small branch office, departments who need a simple BI tool and where TIBCO currently has no presence. By using a free hosted Cloud based platform with customers having no initial costs, TIBCO believes that many companies will be tempted to try BI for the first time.
As a software developer tools vendors, TIBCO is also hoping to build a community of developers who want to build dashboards and other applications on top of the TIBCO Silver Cloud Computing platform and in particular on Silver Spotfire. This would allow TIBCO to attract an every increasing set of customers and make the Silver platform more attractive to third party Cloud hosting vendors who are looking for a value-add solution in order to attract more business.
The users work a local copy of the Spotfire client to create their data visualisation and then upload the data to the server . The maximum single file size is 10MB of compressed data. That might not sound a lot but TIBCO believes that it is more than enough for 300,000-500,000 rows of data depending on the level of data redundancy and the type of visualisation used.
This is a little disappointing but signals where TIBCO currently is with this product. While a fully fledged Cloud BI platform would have been nice, this is about hosting your results not hosting your BI. What will be interesting over the next year is if TIBCO can not only build the complete BI Cloud platform but then sell that as part of the Silver Cloud Computing platform to third party vendors. Success in this area would be a significant market changer but would also need to be linked to a host of other components such as virtual machines, a fully fledged SaaS platform and an active developer community.
As the work is all done locally, when the data is published to the Silver Spotfire platform, the files are not linked to the underlying data sources. This is important as it means that the files are not going to auto update as the core data changes and users will need to build their own local processes to recreate and republish.
In this first release the data will be hosted in the US and there is no Geo Locking. This means that you need to carefully control any data published through the platform to ensure that you do not inadvertently breach any data protection rules. With one of the goals of Silver Spotfire to make it easier to use social media for publishing data there is also a real risk to data leakage
Stopping this is more challenging than many companies realise so it is important that companies step up their data management training for users. This does not preclude using Silver Spotfire but it is something that must be taken into account especially as there is no guidance on data protection policies on the TIBCO website
Another missing element here is federated security. This is something that TIBCO has said it will be working on over the next year as it builds momentum with Silver Spotfire. At present, it is talking to the early adopters and will talk to any new customers about what they want in terms of security.
Despite the security and data protection concerns this looks like a very interesting opportunity and one that is well worth spending some time investigating.