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Embedded reporting, BI put analytics data in business users' hands

Embedded BI software is helping organizations add value to applications and monetize their growing data stores, without requiring end users to turn to separate analytics tools.

Until mid-2015, Urban Airship Inc. was sitting on a ton of data that wasn't always being put to good use. Then Neel Banerjee, a product manager at the mobile app engagement software vendor, decided it was time to change things.

Urban Airship's platform helps retailers, media organizations and other businesses send interactive notifications and marketing messages to app users. The Portland, Ore., company stores data it collects on user interactions with apps in a cloud-based Amazon Redshift data warehouse for analyzing and rating the performance of different notifications. But Banerjee realized that more could be done with the interaction data -- so, he worked to develop an embedded reporting tool that gives Urban Airship's customers access to the information.

Marketers use a web application to schedule notifications and manage other user engagement tasks. Now they can also view reports about the use of their apps and the performance of their marketing campaigns in embedded dashboards. In addition, they can drill down into the data and browse through it on their own to assess what's performing well, and why.

Banerjee said those kinds of data analytics capabilities are becoming more and more an expectation among Urban Airship's clients.

"These marketing teams are becoming more data driven and they're becoming more sophisticated," he said. "What becomes important [to them] is having user-level data. There was a market need of people who are asking these really specific questions."

Value-added potential in embedded tools

Embedded business intelligence (BI) and reporting is a popular option for companies like Urban Airship that are looking to increase the value of existing applications or monetize their data by creating new products and services built around analytics capabilities.

Close to 70% of the 1,524 respondents to a survey conducted this year by research firm Dresner Advisory Services LLC said embedded BI was either important, very important or critical to their business. That ranked embedded BI 12th for strategic importance out of 30 analytics technologies the respondents were asked about, according to Dresner's 2016 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study report.

Banerjee and his team built the customer dashboards using embedded BI software from Looker Data Sciences. The dashboards are tailored to specific industries, he said. For example, one dashboard for online retailers shows stats on products that shoppers are browsing, adding to their cart and buying via a mobile app. Another dashboard for media companies shows what type of content is being browsed, read and shared.

For Banerjee, the embedded reporting tool is also a way of staying ahead of the competition by offering a value-added service to customers. "It was driven by the fact that we thought this was a unique thing," he said.

MasterControl Inc. is another software vendor that's big on embedded BI. For more than a decade, the Salt Lake City company has embedded a homegrown analytics tool into its enterprise quality management software, which automates document management and other processes as part of regulatory compliance and manufacturing quality assurance initiatives. Now it's working to replace its custom analytics technology with JReport, an embedded reporting and BI tool from Jinfonet Software.

Matt Lowe, MasterControl's executive vice president, said virtually all of the company's 1,000-plus customers use the homegrown tool to analyze corporate quality trends both internally and at their supply chain business partners. When MasterControl first developed the analytics tool, commercial BI software "was either super-heavy and difficult to use or too lightweight to do what we needed," Lowe said.

But that's no longer the case, he added. He also said it will be easier for customers to link JReport to their corporate BI systems to support higher-level analytics applications combining the quality data with information from ERP and customer relationship management systems. Only about 10% have such linkages now, according to Lowe, who said the switch to JReport is due to be completed later this year or in early 2017.

Inside job for embedded BI

Embedded analytics applications don't have to serve external users only. Businesses can also use them to improve internal operations by giving employees access to information when and where they need it.

For example, Clover Health, an insurance company that is offering Medicare Advantage plans initially in New Jersey, has developed a web application that gives its visiting nurse practitioners access to embedded reports on how likely patients are to develop health complications. That helps them make instant decisions about how to care for patients during home visits, said Otis Anderson, director of analytics at the insurer, which is based in San Francisco.

Clover's team of data scientists analyzes data from insurance claims, lab results, electronic health records and nurses' notes using a tool from Mode Analytics, then exports the analytics results to the web application, which the nurse practitioners can access while in the field. 

Anderson said the embedded reporting functionality takes data analysis out of Clover's boardroom and pushes it to the operational front lines. The potential business impact of analytics "is not just on high-level, strategic things," he said. "On the day-to-day things, that's really where a good data tool can help your organization."

Executive editor Craig Stedman contributed to this story.

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