When to Buy Embedded BI

Mobile Man / Thursday, July 21, 2016

When deciding to buy or build BI into your application it’s important to make that decision carefully and thoughtfully. In software development there always comes a time when you have to decide to build or buy certain software that you believe is necessary either within your product or to help build your product. You begin to search the web to find any existing tools out there that can solve the problem. Today, there is a massive selection of software to solve nearly every business problem you can think of and new ones are being launched every day. The mistake I have noticed is that many software professionals (including myself) seem to underestimate the effort involved in building solutions yourself. Rich Mironov, Software Product Management Consultant, calls it the DIY Illusion. He describes it as the idea that if a commercially available product doesn’t give us exactly what we want, an internal team can create it in short order. His conclusion after 15 years of experience watching his clients make the same mistake is that:

“Commercial software is almost always a huge bargain versus internally built systems, both in time and money. As technical and business leaders, we should closely inspect every request to do it ourselves. And not fall victim to the DIY illusion.”

As product manager for ReportPlus, which is a BI and data discovery tool that can be embedded into desktop, iOS, and web apps, I believe that many times building your data visualization and business intelligence yourself instead of buying it from a vendor can lead to a DIY nightmare. Here’s why:

  • Not as simple as it seems. As simple as data visualization software sometimes appears there is a lot of magic and complexities that occur behind the scenes including preexisting data connectors to on-premise and cloud data sources, dynamic interactions with the dashboards/charts, intelligent analytics engines that crunch the data and help display the visualizations quickly.  
  • There are no small features in software. Development teams underestimate the cost of creating and supporting home grown software. They also underestimate how quickly it can be built. I’ve been guilty of this myself as a product manager.
  • Belief that it’s too expensive. There’s a misconception that embedded BI tools are pricey. With new tools like ReportPlus, the cost of embedding BI for analytics and dashboard needs is much more affordable.
  • It’s not a one time thing. The requests for reports and dashboards is ongoing and sometimes never ending. If you build your first, you will probably be asked to build another. Choosing a tool that can allow you to create these dashboards quickly and embed them with a few lines of code, can help you focus your development resources on real customer issues instead of building new chart types connected to new data sources. If your team is doing this today you can probably train one person on the new BI tool and have the rest of the team focused on proactive instead of reactive work.

In addition, there are some very clear benefits to choosing to buy an embedded BI product.

  • Faster time to market. In this hyper-competitive landscape, we are all looking for ways to ship faster software and gain a competitive edge. Shipping an analytics mobile application in 4 months vs. 1 year can have a huge difference in how you separate yourself from your competition. An Aberdeen Group report Titled “Embedded Analytics for the ISV: Supercharging Applications with BI”  states that 73% of ISV’s choose to embed BI in their applications as a competitive differentiator.
  • Allows you to focus your resources on where you truly add value. If you offer CRM, ERP, HR software, building out dashboards might not be the best place to focus your team's time. Focus your team on where they can deliver real value to your product or company. At a previous company I worked for, we were evaluating purchases of an embedded BI solution and the development manager sat in on the demo for a product and then wondered what the 2 data analysts would do since we might not need two people to build reports and dashboards anymore. That was exactly the benefit of the software. You get productivity benefits and can allow your team to work on more creative and proactive projects rather than report creation.

Of course, there are times when it does make sense to build BI in-house.  

  • Limited set of requirements or small scope of project. You could be working on a project whose scope is extremely limited and you don’t believe the investment on embedding BI will be worth it.
  • Very specific requirements. Your users might have very specific requirements that can’t be met by the tools available in the market.  
  • BI and data analytics is a core part of your product. If BI and analytics are a core piece of the value you deliver to your customers and you have the expertise to build them yourself, then maybe building it in-house is the better option.

Before deciding to buy or build, be sure to evaluate all the available options in the market and avoid the DIY illusion. For more information on embedding ReportPlus into your iOS, desktop, and web applications, visit our ReportPlus Embedded page to learn more and sign up for your free demo.