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Dresner's Point: Get Suited Up for Embedded BI

By November 6, 2012Article

It’s that time of year when everyone’s predicting what will be hot next year. My prediction: embedded BI will be one of the hot topics in the business intelligence space in 2013. How do I know? One of the things I’ve done lately (besides our formal research studies on expectations in business intelligence solutions), is ask the tribe at my #BIWisdom’s Friday tweetchat what they see around the bend.

Their tweets answering that question last Friday whirled around visions of easier self-service, tighter integration of BI in ERP, and visual analysis tools that collapse the roles of business and IT. There was talk of collaborative BI; but like the findings in our recent study, the tribe agreed that it has a way to go yet and mobile BI is hotter and getting a lot of pressure from the front line.

Valuing the insights of the real-world biz intelligence folks in my #BIWisdom tribe, I brought up the hot topic of embedded BI. Embedding a BI solution in apps will enable BI to become more prevalent because it will be seamless — something that the users don’t have to think about and don’t have to go into a separate app / solution to get information. Embedded BI is the effort to tame the meanderings of the information we all crave.

Except it isn’t quite that clear. Three essential questions frame the issues that will need to be resolved around embedded BI.

1. Is it the domain of ERP vendors or of BI vendors?

The tribe’s consensus was that it all depends on what you want to integrate and where. A participant described an example of a company that has embedded BI dashboards to a mobile portal with collaborative BI for more than 400 users. They can access some static reports as well as interactive BI for dashboards, pull live data and also chat. This embedded BI solution provides great insight for the company. But security is a concern. So is performance.

Another participant piped up that “security concerns are exactly why many corporate organizations would rather embed in custom apps – more control.”

Several bantered that BI vendors are starting to provide software development kits (SDKs) to make BI easy for mobile developers. Yes, it requires a new skill set or extra consulting fees, some acknowledged, but it’s less expensive than the do-it-yourself route.

And a tribe member tweeted that SAP offers various options to embed BI within its ERP system and also offers generic tools that allow companies to embed BI inside ERP. That led to issue #2.

2.  Who should implement the embedding ? IT shops? VARs? Software vendors?  And what should be the criteria for selecting / measuring the vendors support embedded IT? 

There are implications with each of the three routes for implementation. One exec tweeted he foresees “the system spreading out between all three, much like major system implementations today.”

We knocked this question around a bit and then all agreed that no matter which type of vendor provides the tools to do the embedding, it will be essential that the customer be able to choose what to embed, not the vendor.

Thus the real question — what to embed and where. Major concerns were raised including

  • The level of customization that would be needed since business intelligence is so company specific.
  • How to incorporate all the disparate data systems within the enterprise first, before embedding the BI solution.
  • The need for BI information to be context aware, which will speak to how deeply to integrate.

Essentially, how to do it is not the show-stopper; it’s the what and where that matter.

But the “who” dominated many of the tweets, as reflected in issue #3.

3. Will embedded BI cause vendor lock-in and limit choice?

The tribe’s immediate reaction to this was like waving a red flag. After all, we’ve all heard of or experienced expensive trips around the block a few times because of vendor lock-in, and it’s still a major concern in moving to cloud solutions.

The #BIWisdom crowd tweeted concerns:

  • Tighter integration between BI and tools doesn’t necessarily mean locking up with one vendor. With the level of consolidation in the market today, most ERP vendors are now BI vendors too.
  • The user needs to be able to choose. ERP vendors are keen to keep their own transactions private. Perhaps there should be a facility for a user to make a limited choice of BI.
  • Most large vendors do not like other sources using their embedded systems. The enterprise now is too diverse.
  • Would it lead to the rise of vendors providing embedded BI within their own data integration platform?

Bottom line: Embedded BI will be hot in the business intelligence space in the next couple of years, but it bears watching to make sure we won’t be spotting mistakes in hindsight. Two possible mistakes turned up in our tweetchat:

  • “Since all other trends are towards decentralization and service-oriented architecture (SOA), embedded BI might be good operationally but not tactically.”
  • “Be careful what you wish for. Embedded BI could lead to a kerfuffle and confusion of tools — a BI Tower of Babel.”

We’ll continue to do some BI crystal-ball gazing on hot items in the biz intelligence space in upcoming #BIWisdom tweetchats. For now, I’m curious about your view on embedded BI. Please click to post your comment.

Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweetchat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.


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