The embedded BI implementation process isn’t always as streamlined as it’s made out to be. About forty percent of teams encounter at least one significant challenge, according to the Business Application Research Center’s (BARC’s) ongoing BI survey, the most common being a lack of internal resources.
But when implementation teams have all the facts (even the inconvenient ones), they can come prepared and dramatically reduce their odds of encountering a major setback. So today, we’re going to reveal some truths about embedded BI implementation projects and share what Exago has been doing to boost their success.
Requirements are Hard
“Integration is ninety percent planning, ten percent execution,” says Exago implementation manager Nick Cortina, and the same thing can be said of implementation more broadly. Understanding your user requirements before even embarking on your embedded business intelligence search is critical. (Not convinced? “Unclear requirements” ranks second among implementation problems in BARC’s survey.)
A team’s product requirements must be more nuanced than “reports and dashboards” to result in a successful implementation. Isaac Aronov, CIO and chief architect of AbbaDox, has overseen two embedded BI implementations and learned that the challenge lies in distilling an array of user needs into “ones and zeroes.”
“There are a lot of details in a successful BI implementation, but I think the worst part is that when you ask ten different people what BI means to them, you’ll probably get thirteen different opinions,” he explains. For one user, BI might mean receiving reports in their inbox while for another, it might mean being able to explore their data or build sleek-looking dashboards.
“There are a lot of details in a successful BI implementation, but I think the worst part is that when you ask ten different people what BI means to them, you’ll probably get thirteen different opinions.”
Establishing requirements is therefore twofold. Implementation project teams must not only compile a list of the output users need but also a list of the input it will take to provide those assets.Thinking about who will administer the BI solution and how is necessary for piecing together the input requirements. For example, if users need the ability to execute canned reports that could potentially return hundreds of thousands of rows of data, then administrators need the ability to mandate report filtering.
Unclear requirements can result in an array of problems. At best, they lengthen the implementation process by forcing teams to learn and adjust as they work through deployment. At worst, they saddle companies with capabilities they do not need. Trendy technologies can be so seductive that implementation teams sometimes don’t recognize the solution’s poor fit until it’s too late.
Even with project requirements firmly established, embedded BI implementation teams need to be on the lookout for vendors who are less than forthcoming about their BI product’s capabilities. This does happen.
According to Jorge García, senior analyst of BI and data management at Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC), “vendors tend to hide their product limitations.”
“This includes how seamless and transparent the process of embedding the BI/analytics solution within third-party systems can be,” he says. With twelve years of experience at TEC, compounded with over five years as a BI practitioner, García has seen this play out numerous times.
When vendors aren’t open about their product’s capabilities and limitations, it becomes “difficult to discover if an embedded BI solution is really capable of performing users’ day-to-day BI tasks,” he says. Teams who have already committed to a solution then unearth these limitations during the implementation phase as they try to realize their vision for the product.
BI buyers can work to weed out untrustworthy vendors by getting technical stakeholders involved in the vetting process early. Ask for access to technical documentation, training materials, and any other resources that might help you validate the vendor’s claims about the product’s functionality. (This is especially valuable while carrying out a product trial or evaluation, as you will be able to test the features yourself.)
Also assess how dedicated the vendor is to issue resolution. Use peer review sites and customer references to determine how good the vendor is about delivering enhancements and providing workarounds for critical capabilities. Some solutions are also highly extensible, making it possible to build a new component in a pinch. Because needs change and therefore no solution will be a perfect fit indefinitely, it’s important that embedded BI vendors have a proven track record of swift and effective support.
You’ll Need a Strategy
Alas, responsive support won’t help much if you’re putting it toward the wrong objectives. Before implementing Exago BI, Aronov tried to deploy a different embedded BI solution. “[That project] was not a successful one,” he says, “because we did not treat it as a system.There was no 50,000-foot view.” He kept asking the vendor for support in building one-off custom SQL objects for niche use cases, not realizing the practice was unsustainable.
“On our second iteration, we decided to take a systematic approach and built a mind map of all the processes that needed to take place in order for us to build an Exago implementation,” he says. This time, he and his team found success.
Maestro CEO Robert Munier discovered a similar need for strategy during his team’s implementation effort. At first, each member of his team worked on all aspects of the project. It wasn’t until quite some time had elapsed that he realized they weren’t going to get anywhere unless they specialized.
“I separated the development team between what we call the container and the content,” he explains.
The “container,” for Munier, consisted of Exago BI’s integration with Maestro’s construction management solution. The “content,” meanwhile, were all the reports and dashboards they intended to build for their users. Conceiving of the project from a more strategic standpoint made it possible to assign team members tasks according to their skills and proceed more quickly towards launch.
In both of these cases, what appeared to be a lack of internal resources and/or expertise turned out to be insufficient planning. Both teams’ course-corrections resulted in better project infrastructure, better professional development, and a sustainable means of managing the implementation.
Introducing Exago Launchpad
The unvarnished truth is that embedded BI implementations are intricate undertakings. They can go off without a hitch, but that requires a clear and concise understanding of your business case, a trustworthy BI partner, and a plan of attack. This is a lot of preparation for the implementer, but it will continue to pay off long after deployment in the form of customer success.
“There is a clear correlation between the quality of implementer support and the achievement of business benefits in BI projects,” writes BARC in their analysis. “A lack of expertise on the part of the implementer can be especially damaging to the success of a project.”
We believe embedded BI vendors play a critical role in empowering implementers with BI knowhow and helping them maximize their resources. To that end, we have created Exago Launchpad, a collaborative project management workspace built using Monday Work OS. Exago Launchpad takes the guesswork out of the implementation process by providing teams a custom roadmap, the ability to track their progress, quick access to relevant documentation, and a direct line to their Exago support team.
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