Applying relevant information to make better decisions is a very important outcome of a medium-term IT plan. Cloud solutions are really good at enabling this, even if the first phase focuses more on the operational foundations. There are many options available for cost-effective business intelligence solutions in the cloud. Amazon, for example, has developed a rich layer which has stimulated many offers: Google for “Amazon Redshift marketplace”.
Advanced reporting, or business intelligence, has three components. It has a reporting or data visualisation front end (graphs, dashboards, reports etc). It has a data store and analytical logic layer, which imports data from different sources and allows us to group and relate the data to support the visualisation layer. Business Intelligence products always include these two layers. Many of the cheaper cloud solutions, such as Zoho Reports, effectively stop with these two layers.
The third layer is very important. Technically it is know as Extract and Load, (or data transformation). This retrieves the data and processes it ready for import. It would certainly include sales data at the invoice line level, but may include other data such as Google Analytics, Facebook analytics, marketing spend, out-of-stock scores, inventory aging KPIs etc. Extracting that data is some times not simple. Possibly you have sales data coming from different systems (perhaps due to an acquisition): this extract and load layer needs to standardise the data into a common format.
The benefits from this phase really leverages the investment in the cloud-based foundation layer; it taps the potential of cloud-based systems … for a fairly small incremental cost, there is a lot of value.