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Your enterprise software is outstanding in its functionality. You have a solid value proposition with your target market. To make your offering even more attractive, you’ve decided to embed analytics and business intelligence (ABI) into your product.
So far, so good. But which embedded ABI solution will you select? Multiple options exist in the marketplace, but they’re not all the same. You need to make a careful evaluation before you decide on a solution.
The fact is, initial appearances can be deceiving. Plenty of ABI options look great in the sales demo but fail to deliver in the real world. One of the cardinal mistakes software vendors make is focusing exclusively on the features of an ABI product and ignoring how well – or poorly – it will integrate with their software and their customers’ environments. To help you avoid that error, here are six factors to keep front and center as you make your choice of an embedded ABI solution.
1. Keep an Eye Out for iFrames
Inline frames, or iFrames, are often used as the “secret sauce” to make ABI samples look great. After all, it’s simple for a BI vendor to construct a visually attractive demo. The question is, are iFrames something you want incorporated in your live embedded BI solution?
Some will argue that you can get iFrames to do anything you want. This is technically true, but it’s not the whole truth. In practice, iFrames are difficult to work with. They act as islands, separated from the “mainland” of your software. It can be confoundingly difficult to build the bridges necessary to connect those islands to the mainland.
This does not mean that iFrames are an automatic negative in an embedded ABI solution. If you want to offer ABI capabilities and it doesn’t matter that the ABI functionality looks or operates in a standalone fashion, then an iFrame-based embedded software solution may be a viable solution.
2. Be Alert for APIs
Easy-to-use APIs are a must-have if you want to offer a customizable user interface (UI) to your customers. For example, APIs enable toolbars to be turned on and off depending on user type, allow only specified data sources to be shown according to rules of usage, and empower the creation of a variety of dashboards with diverse filters and options.
ABI products that are not specifically designed for embedding may not offer a complete menu of API options. Additionally, the use of iFrames may inhibit or prohibit local APIs. While workarounds might be possible, it will not be a simple matter of a set of API calls, as is the case when an ABI solution has been developed with the intention of leveraging APIs.
In contrast, ABI solutions that are designed to be embedded allow the app’s context to be transferred into the ABI product seamlessly via APIs. The ABI product can then recognize the context and behave in such a way that the interface between the app software and the ABI software is transparent to the end user.
3. Stay Strict About Security
Fully integrated security that incorporates single sign-on (SSO) functionality is another vital factor when evaluating ABI apps. ABI products that are not designed for embedding make SSO difficult or even impossible. For those products, users typically have to sign on to access the enterprise app, then are required to sign on a second time to get to the embedded ABI. This is clumsy and irritating from a user experience perspective.
Products that are designed for embedding make it straightforward to employ SSO security. Once users log into your app, they can interact with everything – including the embedded ABI – in a secure and seamless manner. For instance, if a power user operates certain dashboards, he or she is able to navigate to those dashboards instantly, without being required to sign on a second time to get to the BI they need.
You may come across a ABI vendor who lacks SSO functionality but offers a “workaround.” Remember that all workarounds “work around” your security protocols and therefore inherently compromise the integrity of your system – and, by extension, the integrity of your customers’ systems. If you don’t want to be responsible for a data breach, do not employ security workarounds.
ABI vendors using iFrames occasionally rely on “security by obfuscation”: that is, they will have no security guards around their ABI iFrame other than an extremely long and complex URL. The assumption is that no one would bother to “crack” the URL. However, if an attacker does choose to take the time, such URLs can be hacked. Once hacked, the attacker has full access to your customer’s information. Given the importance of BI data, you do not want this kind of gap in your security measures.
4. Plan Big for Scaling
As the demand for your enterprise software grows, you’ll need to scale your ABI usage as well. Container technology, such as the Docker and Kubernetes solutions, has made scaling simple, allowing you to scale from just a few users to millions of users effortlessly and at minimal cost. Therefore, the embedded BI solution you choose should offer support for self-contained container deployment.
Be aware that for an embedded ABI solution that does not live in the same environment as your product (as may be the case with an iFrame-based ABI product), inexpensive container-based scaling is difficult to implement. Such BI providers may scale with a completely different type of granularity and require a separate plan – and additional costs – to scale with your app usage.
5. Don’t Be Neutral About Neutrality
To maintain your agility as an enterprise software provider, you don’t want to be beholden to a specific cloud-based environment, be that AWS, Azure, or Google. Rather, you want the flexibility to make a move at any time – and that means taking your ABI solution with you wherever you go, on or off the cloud.
For that reason, you should choose an embedded ABI solution that lives on the same hardware as your code and is deployed right next to your product. The ABI solution should be cloud/provider-neutral and have the ability to be hosted anywhere you want. That includes going on-premise if your clients require it, as is sometimes necessary to comply with industry data or compliance regulations.
The danger of cloud-specific ABI apps is that you’ll run into issues if you move your app off that cloud. If your ABI is hosted on a separate domain, you may have to enable change settings to allow access to that domain, or you may have to export your customers’ data. This can be a showstopper in certain industries or with companies where data is not permitted to leave the system.
With cloud-neutral embedded ABI, you remain in complete control of where and how your app is hosted, so you can provide the best service to your customers now and in the future.
6. Probe Deeply on Pricing
When evaluating the price of embedded ABI solutions, look beyond the initially quoted price (which may include a temporary discount or incentive) to the pricing model itself. Products that are not designed for embedding are often priced per user, server, or CPU. This means that as your customers’ usage of your app grows, you will have to bill them more to cover their increased usage of the ABI software. Larger bills could place you in a negative light with your customer base, to say the least.
To avoid the fallout of a metered solution, select an embedded ABI product with a fixed-cost pricing model that aligns with how you plan to scale and grow your product usage and customer base. For example, a pricing model based on the number of apps the software is used with gives you a predictable cost not dependent upon how many software users you have. Whether you have 500 users or 50,000 users, the price for the embedded ABI remains the same.
Select the Best Embedded ABI
Evaluating ABI solutions is about more than checking off the features of the product. You want to determine whether the proposed solution is truly designed to be embedded, with all the capabilities necessary for seamless integration with your enterprise software app. Whether considering iFrames or APIs, security or scaling, hosting models or pricing models, know what you’re looking for and select the solution that aligns to your needs. Remember, not all embedded ABI solutions are the same, so choose the best for your app and your business.