Solutions Architect on BI & Analytics Trends

The world of BI and Analytics is rapidly changing and to remain current Izenda routinely holds forums with key internal and external stakeholders. One recent forum covered Izenda’s core focus embedded self-service BI and analytics. The following is an excerpt from the conversation between Lee Nagel, Izenda’s VP of Marketing and Michael Hornaday, Solutions Architect.

Lee NagelIn your opinion, does every company face an application reporting problem?

Michael Hornaday  Ultimately, yes.  For strategic, economic and competitive reasons every ISV, Solution Provider or anyone developing an application will face a reporting problem.

User expectations for improved usability as well as real-time results inside the applications they use every day on any type of device, desktop or mobile, is straining traditional delivery models for BI and analytics.  Users don’t want to wait, they don’t want to log into other systems,  and they don’t want to work with IT or a  consultants to get answers.

Fundamentally, everybody is going to face the reporting problem because everything that any application does, in terms of dumping data into a database, is satisfying only half of the end user’s expectations. The other half is pulling that information back out in usable formats. Those usable formats could be tables, reports, dashboards, gauges, charts, forms, visualizations, or exports.

Most companies initially start off with what’s most cost-effective, which tends to be homegrown solutions that revolve around the free tools that come with their database platforms. They tend to then supplement this with cheap tools that are only $1,000 to $5,000 a year subscriptions or perpetual licenses with negligible maintenance costs.  They are part of a mindset where all you can do to improve reporting is buy tools intended to make the developer, who is maintaining the reporting system, more efficient.

LN – Those costs are perceived to be low because companies are failing to consider the cost of staffing developers to maintain the infrastructure, build new functionality, and service an expanding number of requests from users.

MH – Exactly. As they scale up and get into the hundreds of users, a single developer or a small team of developers aren’t going to be able to satisfy the rolling and ever-changing needs of hundreds of individual end users making reporting customization requests. Then you need to find a way to automate it.

LNSo as organizations scale and user requests intensify they are forced to approach how they provide reporting and other BI and analytical capabilities differently.  To improve automation and self-service.  To ultimately take the developer out of the loop. 

MH – Yes, ISVs and Solutions Providers routinely engage with Izenda as they discover that the solutions they inherited with their DB or have homegrown, leveraging developer tools, cannot scale.  There are several potential approaches they can take but the ultimate goal is to automate the reporting cycle and improve the user experience.

LN – Improve the user experience but also broaden the base of users who can create, customize and consume reports and other analytics.  One of the failures we often see when companies can’t meet their user expectations or want to promote self-service is a desire to implement a tool that is designed for an analyst rather than an operational worker.

Speak more about what happens when companies embed different solutions or tools and how the seamlessness of integration can impact UX and the overall impact of the solution.

MH – Data is the foundation, and all you are trying to create is a venue to provide what people actually want, when and how they want it. Making that as powerful and compelling an experience for the end user as possible needs to be a major concern in a UI/UX-driven world.

When you are working with tools that restrict your ability to offload and automate processes and do it elegantly, you are handicapping your company’s potential to be cutting-edge on the front end.

LN – The application reporting problem that manifests itself through legacy tools and homegrown solutions.  What about BI and analytic solutions we group as analyst platforms?

MH – Those are typically designed for power users and analysts.  Anytime you are deploying these products, users, internal or external, are going to have to learn a new way of building reports and dashboards, and frequently those vendors’ applications provide very limited control over how that’s presented, and how easy it is to use. Those platforms also follow a, “design in one app, view in another” mentality.

That’s where Izenda is different. Our platform is highly intuitive and almost self-teaching, you can go straight from design to view in one seamless experience. Report designers, dashboard designers, viewers and lists are all tied together, and what’s done in one area is instantly reflected in the other. Additionally we provide our customers with the power to control every inch of that experience.

Izenda eliminates a lot of complications this way. If you don’t like our default interface, if you don’t like the way that we boil things down for you, you have the freedom to alter those behaviors, to change buttons and loading patterns and order, or change the report designer, entirely, and design your own custom report builder. You can bring in the whole thing or you can bring in whatever pieces and parts you want, as they’re appropriate. In any application on the web that renders in HTML, you can drop in an Izenda chart, a full Izenda report or a full Izenda dashboard with one line of JavaScript and one line of HTML, and that is it.

So you have the control of developer tools and the ability to seamlessly integrate an experience that is usable by more than just power users. Business leaders love it because you have shorter time to market and the ability to completely white-label the functionality you put into the flow of the application.

LN – Building on the theme of empowering end-users with the ability to create, customize and consume reports as well as the limitations of many analyst platforms talk more about the desktop only nature of many tools?

MH – With developer platforms, you can publish out to the web and end users can do filtering, sorting and change views. You are still tied to a developer and his desktop to create and customize.

If I somehow can make it secure for end users to use that desktop tool, then they can now download something and install it on their computer.  But you really haven’t provided the ability for more users subject to their role and access rights to create and customize reports, dashboards and analytics online.

What if it’s a massive organization of 500 plus end users? They can’t all install desktop components, so you are not really in control, and you are not open to self-service. You have just delayed the reporting problem — again — and you are going to eventually reach an efficiency limitation where these analysts can’t build reports for thousands of end users.

LN – They really lose the ability to make modification in real-time and respond to issues that come-up during a typical business user day.  How is Izenda different?

MH – Izenda provides the ability to go in and make quick modifications on the fly. For example, if I know that I am going to be showing off a dashboard 15 minutes before a board meeting and I am sitting in some lobby somewhere without access to my desktop, I can pull out my phone, pull up the site where Izenda is sitting, go in and remove that tile or apply a filter that makes things look even better. I can do that in five minutes, save it, and then, by the time they pull it up on their desktop, it is the version I want them to see. Other applications only allow viewing reports on a mobile device.

The fact that we are mobile-ready is definitely important to provide a universal experience, where what I see on my desktop, what I see on my tablet, and what I see on my phone, I would like those to be the same

LN – With the focus on serving power users in stand-alone enterprise applications what other user-experience issues come-up when embedding an analyst platform? 

MH – When you pay for an internal analyst toolset it’s typically a more expensive platform that is designed for power users to satisfy end-users, not at all for developers, you get less access to the underlying code base and controls. That’s because it dips into a world where the vendor of the platform wants you to either adapt to their way of doing things, or they want you to pay for customizations through services. This tends to alienate the development community that actually has to maintain and distribute the system. Developers are forced to use I Frames, internet windows inside internet windows, to include the vendor’s app inside their own UI, or you’re forced to send users to an entirely foreign platform on a separate server where you’ll be lucky if you can make your logo bigger than your vendors, let alone alter anything about the UI.

LN – They are less able to make customization to improve the UX?

MH – That’s right. It’s a big step backwards in a world where software industry leaders are embracing customization by design. Izenda is looking to help bring that mentality into the BI world. Developers are smart, analysts are smart, and users are smart. We want to help get them started with something good, but let them define what makes their experience with BI great.

LN – What about user empowerment?

MH – User empowerment centers around self-service and the freedom to draw conclusions, create new analyses, and customize the way things are presented, on the fly, with no delay, no training, no IT, no developer, no submitted tickets, nothing to wait on. If you are going to satisfy users, you need to be able to do things in near real time. They want things to just be there, ready and waiting for them.

Once you are providing a self-service BI platform and every ounce of it is purposeful, end users are going to feel more appreciative of your application, your company, and the services that you provide.

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Izenda is a leading platform for business intelligence (BI) and analytics purpose built for independent software vendors (ISV), solutions providers, and enterprise users. With Izenda’s software, users have the ability to analyze data in real time which provides self-service BI and analytics to organizations.

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