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Embedded BI tools need to be put in their proper place

Analyst Howard Dresner discusses the potential business value of embedding business intelligence software in business applications -- and what's limiting the technology's adoption.

Embedded business intelligence software lets companies build BI functionality into other types of applications so end users can access reports and analyze data without having to open up a separate tool. Embedded BI "isn't a barn burner" of a technology, according to analyst Howard Dresner -- but it has a role to play in making BI data easier to use in business operations.

Dresner, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services LLC in Nashua, N.H., discussed the current status and future potential of embedded BI tools in a Q&A with SearchBusinessAnalytics. The discussion was based partly on the results of his company's 2016 Wisdom of Crowds survey, which canvassed more than 1,500 IT, BI and business professionals on the BI and analytics priorities in their organizations. Excerpts from the interview follow.

In your 2016 survey, embedded BI was in the middle of the pack on strategic BI and analytics technologies. Where do you think it stands among users?

Howard Dresner of Dresner Advisory ServicesHoward Dresner

Howard Dresner: It's definitely in the top half of priorities [among the survey respondents], but it isn't a barn burner. We aren't talking about dashboards or predictive analytics or reporting. Some vendors are really pushing it, and for certain use cases, it makes sense. If you want to serve up [BI data] externally -- to partners or suppliers or the public at large -- it's a safe way of doing it because you can control access to the data and sync it up with an application. That's a valuable thing to be able to do.

Is it primarily a technology for independent software vendors (ISVs), or is there potential value for user organizations, too?

Dresner: It's predominantly ISV-focused, but sure, there's interest within enterprise IT. Any organization could benefit if, say, they have a customer portal or a supplier portal and want to serve up data [through it].

There's a lot of talk about data monetization and data products -- for example, making money off of your data by packaging it into analytics services. Do you see that as a real trend? And if so, could it give a boost to adoption and use of embedded BI tools?

Dresner: A lot of vendors are talking about everyone using embedded BI to monetize their data, and some companies will, some won't. You can't paint everything with a broad brush -- not everyone's data fits the model. And even if you rewind 20 or 30 years, the syndicated data business has always existed. Arguably, there are many more of those companies today, and there are a lot of reasons to use embedded BI to surface the [data]. But it's not mandatory. You could do that with a mobile application, too. Embedded BI is just one [option], and it really depends on the targeted audience.

In user organizations, are IT or BI teams typically involved in buying decisions on embedded BI technology? Or are those decisions usually business-driven?

Dresner: In many cases, it's driven by the front office and delivered by the back office. For other types of BI applications -- data discovery deployments, for example -- it may not be as necessary for business units to involve IT. But with embedded BI, they usually don't have the wherewithal to do the required integration work themselves. That can be a good thing for IT -- it gives them a hand in the game.

But does it create potential conflicts inside organizations if IT or BI managers need to get involved in deploying and managing software that they weren't involved in selecting?

Dresner: Will there be complexities? Yeah, there's always conflict there because of differing priorities. It's one of those things where you really have to build the relationships -- sitting down and negotiating, and helping the users to understand some of the challenges of what they're trying to accomplish. Driving that kind of alignment is very hard, but it's necessary.

A report on embedded BI that you released in late 2015 said BI vendors are far more likely to consider it to be a critical technology than users are. Do vendors think there's more of a market for embedded BI software than there really is?

If you can put BI data in front of more people, that's a good thing.
Howard Dresnerfounder and chief research officer, Dresner Advisory Services

Dresner: Many of those guys are focused on ISVs, so embedded BI is a natural market for them. And if we only surveyed ISVs [as users], it would be a higher priority. The vendors are perfectly aligned with what ISVs are looking for. For user organizations, it's a more nascent thing, and in many cases, they have bigger BI fish to fry. But if you can put BI data in front of more people, that's a good thing. And if you can have more people consuming BI data without knowing they're consuming BI data, that's a good thing.

Will embedded BI achieve the heights that some of the vendor community would like to convince us we'll see? Probably not, but I think it still has some legs. My advice is to make sure you think about the use case first, though. Otherwise, you might get a different reaction [from end users] than what you expect.

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This was last published in July 2016

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What value do you see in using embedded technology for BI and analytics in business applications?
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Thanks for your comment, Jaya001. I'm glad you liked the article, and we definitely will continue to cover this topic going forward.
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