IT services and analytics provider Acxiom has launched a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that delivers a business intelligence (BI) package at a much lower cost than traditional BI systems.

According to Acxiom, its BI Platform-X is essentially a pre-configured hosted environment includes all hardware, software and network infrastructure needed to deliver business intelligence via an internet connection.

It comes complete with a database, business intelligence, and analytics software, and customers can add storage or increase capacity on demand. Acxiom is also throwing in consulting services to provide expert help during the development phase.

"BI solutions that enable business growth and profitability are a top priority now more than ever," said Acxiom BI product leader Todd Barron. "The explosion of data proliferation and the need to manage, organise and analyse massive amounts of information, as well as gain meaningful intelligence from it, is an extremely complex and expensive undertaking that requires specialised technical expertise and data."

Barron told Techworld that the offering is targeted at businesses with $100 million plus in revenues. "It is not limited to any particular vertical industry, but the retail sector does tend to use BI more than any other industries," he said.

Instead of companies having to go out and source the specialised components that make up a BI package, Barron said its SaaS BI offering allows them to avoid the massive capital expenditure of a traditional BI system. Little Rock, Arkansas-based Acxiom has already negotiated with a number of vendors, to be able to offer customers an integrated platform that includes Cognos 8 and Oracle 10g.

"Customers often cannot afford to buy the tools, setup the helpdesks, hire the DBAs and programmers, etc, to build a working BI system. With BI Platform-X, they can have someone else to do it for them," he said.

Barron also highlighted the time advantage customers would gain. "With our service it takes a few weeks to implement, instead of months for a traditional BI implementation."

"It seems like a good idea right now, as IT budgets are about as tight as a bungee jumpers knot," commented Madan Sheina, of analyst house Ovum. He pointed out that last year, Business Objects launched its own full suite of on-demand business intelligence (BI) software, which allowed customers to use Business Objects' BI tools without having to maintain the software themselves or buy extra servers.

Barron admitted the budgetary pressures were a definite concern in the market-place. "Some view BI as a luxury, but that is a mistake," said Barron. "Some companies cut marketing, or cut BI, but others take the opposite path, and ask themselves, 'do we really understand our data and who we are targeting', in order improve their operational efficiencies."

"We started offering it three weeks ago and so far have received very positive interest in this service," he said. "Our service can be online and working in just three weeks, and it lowers customer risk and increases their agility. It also removes a significant cost barrier."

The Acxiom BI Platform-X is offered to clients on a subscription basis, and includes free integration. Typically, a customer contracts is anywhere from a 3 month to a three year commitment.

"Companies are spending millions to choose a product, but they can come to us and accept a best practise solution," said Barron.

"It is free to setup the environment, and the customer pays for the capacity they require," he added. "We set up the environment according to their specifications."