The seemingly insatiable demand by business end users for data visualizations and analytics has reached the software and SaaS provider segments in full force. Just as they're calling for IT to deliver data-driven applications, they're also expecting their software vendors to offer this same kind of analytic support inside their products. Dashboards, reports, and interactive visualizations are now market requirements in most software segments.
You already made the decision that BI is worth pursuing. But before you start on a development plan to add this functionality to your own product, you might want to consider the benefits of using an embeddable BI approach.
While creating a BI system in-house offers benefits like full customization and the luxury of not being tied down to any particular vendor, it can be a time and resource drain on businesses that ship the decision to build before analyzing all the potential drawbacks.
The decision to bring BI in-house should be made after careful consideration of the needs and availability of your business. Here are 10 benefits of using an embeddable option that might make it a better choice than bringing operations in house.
1: Add value quickly
Customers aren't always patient when it comes to the delivery of functionality they consider a basic required feature. And so it is with data visualization. Basic dashboards and reports are giving way to more advanced, interactive analytics, and if you're not delivering them, your competitors might already be. There are a number of ways you can utilize BI, which means countless options for meeting your customers' expectations.
2: Reduce costs
The desire to develop from scratch and/or embed off-the-shelf display components is often the first reaction of a product team on a budget. But there are a number of hidden costs — some which aren't obvious until it's too late.
The first is maintenance costs. With anything you've built yourself, you've inherited the obligation for engineering support along with the corresponding hit to your development resources. However, third-party vendors have a strong incentive to keep their products up to date, and they devote a significant portion of their R&D to doing just that.
Second, there are the costs of adapting your implementation as user requirements change. From your market as a whole to individual customers who demand custom implementations, it's important to remember that you're always trying to hit a moving target. To ease this challenge, many third-party solutions are designed to allow for easier adaptation, so you can meet today's needs, as well as those that come in six to nine months.
3: Reduce your time to market
Let's face it: Launch deadlines often drive development decisions. Hitting these deadlines can be essential to capturing and maintaining a competitive advantage. Embedding third-party BI technology can dramatically reduce time to market as compared to building from scratch, helping you immediately add value to your products without delaying your launch.
4: Stay focused on your core competency
Your team is good at what they do, and they have to stay focused on the primary needs of your market to remain competitive. Asking them to also become experts in the design and delivery of BI and interactive data visualizations can be a detrimental, and often futile, distraction. BI vendors, on the other hand, do only BI. Just as your company has its realm of knowledge, BI vendors have developed expertise resulting from their single-minded focus. Embedding allows you to leverage this expertise without investing the time to learn the intricacies of a new market space and related technology.
5: Be more agile
Most likely your team already knows how your customers want to see and use data visualizations. Consequently, your needs may focus today on only providing a few specific types of dashboards and reports. But remember, BI is evolving rapidly, and these requirements will undoubtedly change — maybe sooner than you think. Some third-party solutions possess architectures that make these kinds of adaptations far easier, allowing your team to stay agile and deliver changes to your customers faster.
6: Retain and extend your brand
This may seem counterintuitive, because most people assume third-party components often deliver data visualizations that look the same. However, this isn't true of all third-party options; some actually make it easier to customize the look and feel of your implementation — to create a "white label" product — making them not only seamless, but well-differentiated from your competitors. This is particularly true of Web-based solutions, as they leverage all the display editing options that HTML offers.
7: Ensure a positive and seamless end-user experience
It's not just a question of how your product looks, but also of how it behaves. If you build your BI from scratch, without in-house expertise on data analytics and related user interactivity, your implemetation might seem odd or confusing compared to the other analytics your customers use. For example, if clicking a feature in your application forces them to use an unfamiliar interface or action, the result can be an inconsistent and confusing experience. Many of the more complete BI solutions already have these types of best practices for data visualization built into them, so it's harder to go wrong.
8: Increase customer adoption and long-term value
When users have a high quality experience, they use your product more. Embedding a third-party BI solution — because it helps to ensure that this part of your application is well-designed — can drive adoption of your product within your customer accounts. This, in turn, is good for both retention rates and follow-on sales.
9: Safely give control to your customer
Some third-party BI solutions allow for customized (ad hoc) views of data and access to functionality by each end user, something that's often much harder to achieve when building from scratch. In addition, some vendors also offer automated role-based views and permissions that can be centrally controlled, giving both end-user flexibility and data security. By delivering this kind of controlled power, you can make your customers happy without having to spend development hours trying to satisfy their requests for special views, reports, charts, etc.
10: Keep your options open
Integration is often the number one concern among IT professionals when it comes to BI. However, when embedding some third-party BI solutions, the integration is typically less involved than when building the functionality directly into the fabric of your application. Many vendors' products are in fact designed, to varying degrees, with this ease of development in mind. An added bonus to this approach is that it is ultimately easier for you to switch from one solution to another should the BI landscape, and the capabilities of the vendors in it, change.
Can you think of additional reasons why embedding a third-party BI app is better than building from scratch — or why building from scratch is the better option? Share your thoughts with other TechRepublic members.
About the author
Ken Chow is the CMO at LogiXML, a Web-based BI company that helps companies deliver business analytics, dashboards, and reports to a broad range of users, as well as embed them into existing applications. Ken has more than 25 years of technology marketing experience.