By Cassandra Balentine
Analytics are a must-have for today’s software applications (apps). Embedded business intelligence (BI) offers reporting and analytic capabilities within business apps. While many developers may set out to build proprietary analytics within business apps, third-party embedded BI tools present an alternative.
Aviad Harell, co-founder, VP, OEM and field engineering, Sisense, points out that rapid advancements and prevalence in technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) create large volumes of data. “With this, BI and visualization capabilities are becoming commonplace, but for those who implement advanced analytics tools, it goes beyond a commonplace business tool and becomes a strategic competitive advantage.”
Thomas Dong, VP of product marketing, Open Text, agrees, adding that the increased awareness and availability of big data is leading today’s companies to growing interest in leveraging data and meaningful insight. “The explosion of information is fueling the need—and therefore the requirements—to evolve system of record business apps into smarter systems of insight.”
“We’re increasingly moving to a paradigm where analytics is the center, which then drives apps rather than the other way around,” says Dan Sommer, senior director, global market intelligence lead, Qlik. “As such, analytics must be more deeply embedded and interlocked with business apps.”
Embedded BI solutions provide businesses with an alternative to custom-building BI into apps, offering benefits such as the latest innovations, faster time to market, and more time to focus on the core product.
The Need for Embedded BI
As users begin to expect better BI within the apps they rely on, and as organizations continue to comply with these demands, it becomes more of a critical offering.
Embedded BI gives a descriptive and historical insight into data. It provides a more native approach than extracting data from systems like ERP and CRM and doing analysis in a spreadsheet, comments Dong.
“Data is a commodity today, the same as oil was a century ago. Businesses are increasingly reliant on data to inform decision making and drive company strategy and ROI,” comments Harell. For business users, this means that embedding analytics can not only serve to enhance product offerings, it can help to measure the impact and give organizations the infrastructure they need to prove the value of their offerings to executives and investors.
Businesses look to embedded BI for effective, in-context BI. “If the embedded BI is effectively implemented, the insights appear in a highly relevant and timely manner so that they impact the decisions and operational performance of the targeted user. “Creating in-context, data-driven value is perhaps the primary driver of embedded BI,” says Andy McCartney, director of BI and analytics, Information Builders.
Benefits of embedding BI creates a data insight action loop. “People can understand what actions to take because it’s in context and helps them make or automate decisions. By putting insights in the hands of where people make decisions at the point of work, we eliminate the need to go to another app to figure out what decisions to make and why,” says Roman Stanek, CEO/founder, GoodData.
Third Party Appeal
Organizations across all verticals recognize the need for analytic capabilities within their software apps. However, software developers face the decision to build versus buy. “The verdict typically comes down to a combination of resources and expertise,” offers Dan Kogan, director of marketing intelligence, Tableau Software.
While building a solution offers a sense of control and may be the right decision for some, third-party options also present benefits.
Ernest Ongaro, product marketing manager, TIBCO, sees three primary factors making third-party embedded BI platforms attractive to software developers, the requirement to be more agile, improving the user experience, and the need to focus on core competencies.
When it comes to agility, the idea to market for software products is increasingly shorter. Ongaro points out that more customer requests for BI clog software teams and an embedded BI vendor can help alleviate these with features like self-service BI and more efficient reporting.
Customer experience is also crucial, and it includes the ability to access BI with a single sign on and a familiar interface. Simplicity is critical.
Hugh Owen, senior VP of product marketing, MicroStrategy, says the key benefit of embedded analytics is that it makes the offering richer, especially when information is consumed on mobile devices. “This enables everyone across an organization—from analysts and executives to external consultants—to get visibility into the company’s data, without the loss of functionality or control. Organizations can also use embedded analytics to generate entirely new revenue streams by building custom consumer-facing products and services.”
“The idea that business to business (B2B) software is ugly and hard to use is quickly dying,” says Ongaro. He credits this to the success of business to consumer apps, particularly when it comes to data visualization and BI. “Do you think Fitbit could sell more than 60 million devices and maintain over 20 million active users without help from data?” he asks. “Without data, those devices are just pieces of plastic. The way they bring that data to their users is fun, intuitive, and addictive. So when your customer comes to work and logs into your B2B app, why should they expect something different?”
BI should work with the app at hand to create a cohesive experience. “If your app feels like two apps in one, instead of one seamless product, your end users may ultimately reject the tool,” warns Brian Brinkmann, VP of product marketing, Logi Analytics. He suggests development teams start by configuring the app to pass information parameters back and forth so data flows freely between the two. Once that has happened, developers should ensure the analytics interface assumes the guise of the final app. Successful apps have consistent branding and experiences to satisfy end users.
Furthering the discussion on customer experience, third-party embedded BI vendors strive to offer flexibility to support every possible user type. McCartney explains that some users may only need parameterized reports or a few charts, while others prefer a dashboard and the ability to reassemble BI content into their own personal dashboards. Some might need a more structured BI app that offers specific analysis based on input from the underlying app, and others might even want ad-hoc reporting or data discovery for additional self service.
“Having a BI platform that can offer a very broad range of analytical capabilities will provide maximum flexibility going forward,” says McCartney.
There is overwhelming confidence by third-party BI vendors that a primary benefit of their offerings is to present software developers to more time to focus on core competencies.
Ongaro brings the discussion back to the basics. “What is an app today?” he asks. “When I look at a mobile app like Lyft, I wonder, what exactly does it do? It doesn’t do maps—it gets those from Google. It doesn’t send SMS, it uses Twilio—and dozens of other third-party services make up the app. Instead, it focuses its efforts on building experiences that connect drivers to passengers,” he explains. “Embedded BI is the same thing. Software makers realize that it’s not easy to build BI in house and that it’s not part of their core competences.”
Lee Nagel, VP of marketing, Izenda, points out that the use of internal technical resources, niche solutions, and developer tools to provide the desired functionality of BI is time consuming and distracts from the resources needed for work on the core app. “The result is greater pressure on software vendors to deliver highly responsive and intuitive analytics offerings in their products,” says Nagel. “Rather than devoting expensive technical resources to coding an in-house solution, software vendors partner with third-party vendors that specialize in BI and analytics.
Stanek comments that organizations are looking to manage data at scale, and have to deal with all aspects that pertain to data, such as what to measure, how to measure, who should see what data, and everything under data management. “This process is so complex and it’s better to offload these responsibilities to a trusted third party to embed,” he offers. “By partnering with a third party, one can take advantage of ongoing innovation, security, and protection of data and privacy, which are all regulation features.”
One benefit of third-party embedded BI is time to market. “A prebuilt, integrated BI system allows you to be up and running faster, potentially opening up new revenue streams sooner. An established BI solution can also provide full flexibility, such as branded menus and navigation options, as well as making the system look and feel like it’s your own app. Finally, an embedded BI solution can not only provide valuable insights to your customers, but push them in your direction as well, giving you information on how your customers are interacting with your products,” says Kogan.
With embedded BI tools, businesses are also able to stay on top of the latest innovations. “For example, machine learning is now available as a next step. Incremental changes to business can happen in a manner of weeks versus years,” offers Stanek.
By working with third-party vendors, software developers incorporate the latest state-of-the-art analytics technologies and capabilities into their own software apps. “Most software developers aren’t analytic experts, but third-party vendors who provide this technology are. If developers were to try and produce analytics by themselves, they would need to develop the same level of expertise as analytics vendors. Very few companies have the time or the bandwidth to do that,” comments Brinkmann.
While embedded BI and third-party solutions provide a number of benefits, there are also challenges with integration and specifically, security and licensing. It is important that businesses fully understand the technical integration before them.
Third-party solutions must fit within the host app’s existing technology stack. “Integrating an analytics experience that compliments the host app’s workflow and meets the needs of various user types present a challenge,” says Nagel. He explains that many solutions require a proprietary infrastructure to deliver analytics, which comes at a cost. As the app scales, the costs may increase.
“While customizing an existing analytics solution is economical, it does present the challenge of matching an organization’s consistent look and feel across all of its apps as it’s important to deliver a single user experience across different platforms,” says Owen.
“The fact of the matter is, when investing in embedded analytics, you are getting a fully baked product, and without an investment in the right solution it can be hard to customize platforms to match the look and feel of your product or solution out of the box. Organizations often struggle in adopting embedded solutions that feel native when added to existing or developing products,” says Harell.
“When integrating a third-party solution with existing infrastructure, organizations can often struggle to sync various systems to ensure communication and compliance, while also maintaining security in the overall infrastructure. Many analytics solutions only address certain elements of the data value chain, requiring that company to invest in multiple solutions to fully meet their BI needs,” offers Harell. “This is where an end-to-end solution can serve as a vital asset for an organization looking to implement analytics.”
As with any app that touches company and customer data, security is of utmost importance. Brinkmann says it is critical that the host app and the analytics platform are able to seamlessly share information around security. “This means the analytics platform needs to adhere to the security protocols, policies, and governance architecture of the host app. This is often more challenging than it may sound, and app teams should be careful to avoid having to redo or replicate their security when looking for a BI vendor.”
Deployment concerns are also an issue. Brinkmann notes that whether an app is hosted through an SaaS app or installed on premises, the analytics software along with the host app needs to be installed, deployed, and upgraded silently, without disrupting end users. “Even if it’s on a hosted system, developers need to be able to force or push updates to the users without impacting their workflows.”
Culture is another issue. “Adoption and change management can be a challenge,” admits Dong. Additionally, enterprises may deal with the challenge of offering self-service capabilities, so users themselves can create custom views of their data versus relying on IT to author reports in a constant back and forth for new filters, new data elements, and new computed elements,” he explains.
Nagel also points to licensing challenges. “Many licensing models are not OEM friendly, but rather structured for the enterprise. Chargers per view, user, core, or by data size makes forecasting difficult and adoption and scale punitive,” he says.
At the end of the day, it is all about improving processes. “If the BI solution isn’t ultimately improving your end user experience, it may not be work the expense.” says Kogan.
BI is undisputedly an integral part of all businesses going forward. For developers of software apps looking to integrate this technology in a seamless manner, third-party solutions are an appealing option. However, there are challenges to consider.
August2017, Software Magazine