While the average person might balk at the phrase “embedded business intelligence (BI) and analytics,” you’re not the average person. You’re looking for embedded analytics software or looking to learn more about it, and you’ve come to the right place! We’ve compiled an embedded analytics requirements checklist to help guide you in your search for embedded BI software.
What Is Embedded BI?
First, a quick detour to create some common ground: what are embedded analytics tools? Embedded BI, or embedded analytics, refers to the integration of self-service tools into non-BI applications. For example, an electronic medical records system that can generate reports based on patient data is utilizing embedded analytics to do so. Basically, embedded analytics bring BI to the rest of the business software world.
While this embedded BI feature is becoming more common in business software, it’s far from standard. So businesses looking to add embedded analytics to an existing platform have two options: have a developer build an in-house analytics platform in the application of your choice, or purchase an out-of-the-box software system that integrates with your chosen platform. Both have pros and cons, but to get started with either process you need to know what to expect from embedded analytics. Take a look at this list of embedded analytics requirements to get started:
This may seem like common sense, but your embedded analytics system needs to be embeddable. What does that look like? First, it needs to have white labeling functionality. This means that every aspect of the application can be customized in order to match the look, feel and logic of the host application.
It also needs to offer multi-tenancy support. Basically, this boils down to an ability to treat every unique instance of the software as a unique tenant. Embedded BI software has to be able to manage the customization of the white labeling feature, after all. It also needs to be able to adapt to mobile app hosting if necessary.
Version control is another crucial embedded BI requirement. It helps a development team manage changes in source code over time. This may sound overwhelming to the non-IT folks reading this, but don’t worry — the reason this feature is incorporated into the software is to keep users from having to track it manually. It functions to protect past versions of your system in the case of a data breach, code corruption, data loss or another unforeseen issue that compromises your software.
The last accessibility feature to keep an eye out for is globalization support. This embedded BI feature supports international and local customizations like languages, fonts, symbols, reading direction, number formatting, date and time formatting, time zone, currency, etc. This helps users feel comfortable and at home in their software and allows a huge range of customers to use embedded BI.
Mobile App Embeddability
Now the good stuff — the data! How embedded analytics software manages your data is vital, especially if you have unique data needs. The basic features like data exploration and preparation let users prepare unstructured data sets and explore them for patterns and trends. Then, those patterns can be mapped and diagrammed with data modeling. Next, data blending draws from multiple databases to present complex data trends in intuitive visualizations for consumption and analysis.
ETL combines three database capabilities into a single tool in order to transport data between databases. This function prepares data for analysis and visualization. Then the data is collected in a centralized location via an optimized data repository.
Once your data is organized, collected and structured, data discovery identifies actionable information from the patterns or outliers. Then, data mashups create visual relationships between data points in order to present them in a visualization suited to the average user’s understanding. Online analytical processing (OLAP), a multi-dimensional analysis function, allows the system to analyze data from multiple dimensions with drill-down, roll-up, slicing and dicing.
Data governance ensures that all analysis and insights meet your organization’s business procedures, policies, objectives, etc. This helps mitigate risks related to multiple sources of truth and ensure data integrity. Similarly, secure write-backs update numerous data sources in real-time through backend processes. This maintains systems of record without ever leaving the context of the BI solution, improving security for your sensitive data.
Embedded Extract, Transform, Load Tool (ETL)
Optimized Data Repository
OLAP and Multi-Dimensional Analysis
Embedded Data Visualization
Once data has been organized and sifted, the visualization can start. Dashboards are tools that visually display these data patterns for analysis, presentation and easy understanding. They can be customized to report on specified KPIs or to fit branding needs.
Dashboards present complex trends in an interactive data visualization that simplifies the data analysis process. It’s an excellent way to track incoming information from multiple sources in a central interface.
Drill-down takes a user from general overviews down to more detailed analysis with a single click. This embedded business intelligence feature offers extensive usability for everyone from C-level managers making a future business plan to individual sales reps tracking their personal performance.
Interactive Data Visualization
The reporting features of embedded analytics make the interactive data visualizations of dashboards possible. Interactive embedded reporting lets users interact with reports and different views of data. The intuitive platform offered by self-service embedded BI allows users to analyze data, visualize insights, obtain information and share results without the help of a data scientist.
Ad-hoc is Latin for “as the occasion requires,” and in the context of embedded analytics refers to on-the-fly reporting. This ties into self-service capabilities and means that any user can generate reports from a BI solution without having to submit a query through IT or another channel.
For those who have more advanced reporting needs, embedded analytics’ managed reporting feature allows technical report developers to create and distribute reports in SQL or CSV languages. These reports can be scheduled to send at required times via the auto-scheduling feature, which is especially helpful for recurring reports.
If you’re concerned about that recurring reports feature, never fear! Embedded BI solutions come with a built-in alerting component. This allows users to set a condition on specific reports so they will only be sent when that condition has been met. No need to worry about accidentally sending out reports!
When users are ready to send reports, they can be exported in various formats such as HTML, Excel, CSV or PDF files. Users can see past versions of reports as well as generate reports and visualizations via natural language search.
Interactive Embedded Reporting
Managed Embedded Reporting
Natural Language Generation
Now for the various types of analytics offered by embedded analytics software. Decentralized analytics is a system of storing and managing data through respective departments rather than centrally. This helps prevent siloing and allows individual departments to have hands-on control of their reporting. Users can also utilize benchmarking to compare performance metrics against best practices or goals. You can also analyze specific business questions through ad-hoc analysis.
Descriptive analytics allows users to answer comprehensive data analysis to answer overview questions about the current state of your business through clustering, segmenting and correlation techniques. Predictive analytics examines future issues and forecasts using regression analysis, forecasting, trends, pattern matching and predictive modeling.
Prescriptive analysis helps users to address problems in a targeted way. With techniques like business rules, machine learning, algorithms and computational modeling, users can make data-driven decisions about what they need to do for their business.
Another important aspect of embedded analytics is its ability to integrate data from a variety of sources like Excel, CSV, XML, etc. It should also be able to integrate with big data sources like Hadoop.
Embedded analytics needs to be able to draw data from both relational and NoSQL sources through something called parameterized database connections — you’d probably recognize them as password and username combinations.
Flat Files Integration
Big Data Integration
Parameterized Database Connections
Extensibility by definition is something’s ability to be scaled or stretched. This collection of features relates to how well the solution integrates with other systems and how well it can grow, adapt and change to suit your needs.
First, it’s important that your embedded analytics solution provides document application programming interfaces (APIs) for updating data source connection information. This allows users to build templates and then use them again and again in similar scenarios. These APIs also need to be able to custom integrate with other systems to ensure users can get exactly what they need out of this system.
Speaking of integration needs, embedded analytics need to integrate with external ETL tools, web service integration protocols like medical SOAP notes, etc. Users should expect pre-built integration options with third-party applications like CRM, ERP and other business software solutions.
Authentication protocols like SAML, OpenID, etc. will give users access to existing corporate user directories and databases. This makes it easy for users to automatically sync information rather than spending the time to manually input it all.
Web Services Integration
Availability and Scalability
This collection of embedded analytics features relates to how a system scales and adapts. Scalability is the ability of a system, process, workflow, etc. to grow in order to accommodate increased demand without needing to significantly change. Basically, it means something is adaptable. Business software can be both vertical and horizontally scalable: vertical scalability means a software or hardware’s capacity can be increased by adding extra resources like processing power or CPU. Horizontal scalability increases capacity by interconnecting different devices or programs to create a single comprehensive unit.
Embedded analytics systems should be both horizontally and vertically scalable. They should also be dynamic, which means they are able to automatically scale resources to accommodate varying throughput throughout the day.
This leads into the next feature: availability. High availability software is software that is up and running most of the time. If a software offers high availability, it usually does so through redundant backup services, cloud nodes, etc. to offer up to 99.999 percent availability. When processes within the system fail, the availability drops.
A solution’s ability to automatically recover from failures is called fault tolerance. This enables a system to continue operating through these single-point failures of a component or process.
In the modern world, users don’t just want to be connected at all times — they expect it. Mobile support offers users a consistent experience with the system on any device. The responsive design of mobile-enabled embedded analytics systems offer options for users to create native apps, as well as incorporate custom icons, splash screens, login menus, etc. Users can design workflows that match their needs and brand, then configure reports directly in the app to share it with relevant parties.
Keeping your data safe is crucial when it comes to business intelligence tools. Embedded BI utilizes a range of security features that focus on keeping your proprietary data out of harm’s way. First, it’s key to restrict user access by role-based criteria. This ensures only the right people have access to the most sensitive data and reduces the likelihood of accidental leaks.
The solution can also maintain a record of administrative and user actions through activity tracking. If an issue arises, managers can generate a report on these activities to see where the source of the problem is. Embedded BI solutions offer single-sign-on features, which requires trusted authentication tickets from the host application before users can access any functionality. This allows users to access the embedded BI solution inside the host application without being prompted to log in separately, which means they don’t need to remember an additional password that could be lost or stolen.
The system allows users to apply record and column-level security policies. Basically, this lets users define which records and columns of data are revealed to any individual user in a single database for multiple users or clients. For example, the branch manager of the Colorado location doesn’t need access to a location in Florida’s data. Embedded analytics should also importing and inheriting security settings and specifications from an external security system.
Role and User-based Access
Application Activity Tracking
Row/Column Level Security
There’s nothing more frustrating than having a crucial problem you can’t fix with software. Not every business can afford to keep a full-time IT staff — and even those that can may not be able to address issues with SaaS software. But don’t worry: most vendors offer support services that range from basic to premium. It’s important to find out what kind of support features individual products offer based on what you think you’ll need. Here are some questions to ask of shortlist vendors to understand their user support offerings:
- Does the vendor offer help desk support via telephone and email?
- Does the vendor offer help desk support via instant message/chat for ease of live communication?
- Does the vendor offer 24/7 technical support to address off-hour issues?
- Does the product have a community support forum for the user community to interact and provide assistance to one another?
- Is a formal service level agreement (SLA) published or available for review?
- Does the vendor provide free training?
- Is there an option for unlimited or staggered training so the new end-users can be trained as and when they are required to use the product?
- Are pre-recorded training videos available? Also, when training is done, does it get recorded and shared for future use for the end-users to refer to?
These questions will help you understand what features out of this extensive list are offered by specific vendors, as well as which features your organization will emphasize.
24/7 Technical Support
Unlimited or Staggered Training
Recorded Training Videos
Professional Services and Maintenance
When selecting your vendor, it’s also important to identify some key factors surrounding the application. Does the vendor offer maintenance contracts for supported software to ensure that updates, upgrades and maintenance services are regularly received? If not, the software could end up outdated quickly, and infrequent bulk updates result in longer downtimes or times when you can’t use the software you’re paying for.
Does the vendor provide on-premise maintenance support? If you don’t choose a cloud solution, that means you’ll be hosting both the software and hardware on your premises. Does this vendor offer maintenance teams to provide IT support in the event of failures? If not, you need to secure this maintenance team internally, which could add on to the cost quickly.
Does the vendor offer software implementation services including solution evaluation and installation? In order to minimize the on-premise expertise required to implement the solution, many vendors send a coach or team of coaches to help your business get the solution up and rolling. Not all of them offer this, so it’s important to decide if that’s something you’re interested in so you can keep it as an embedded business intelligence requirement.
Can the implementation costs be capped, based on a fixed scope? Scope refers to how many departments will utilize a software system — for instance, if only your sales team at a single location wants to utilize embedded BI, that’s a narrow scope. If sales, marketing, accounting, management and the executive team all want access, it’s a broad scope. Determining the scope of your system in advance will help keep your cost expectations realistic. Some solutions offer price-capping that promises to stick to a certain price limit within given implementation strategies. This is a great way to avoid going way over budget.
Choosing an embedded analytics solution is exciting, and it doesn’t have to be a huge challenge. By understanding the requirements of your organization, you can compare vendors based on their performance in what you’ve determined are the most crucial features. Once you’ve formed a shortlist of the vendors who match your needs best, you can begin contacting them for price quotes, free demos and trials. Take the solution out for a spin, get a feel for how it interfaces, and then choose based on what solution you feel will be the best fit for you.
Do you have lingering questions about the features of embedded analytics? Leave them in the comments!