There’s no doubt that business intelligence (B.I.) is hot. The real challenge is figuring out the least-disruptive way to introduce it into any given application.
The best-known approaches to B.I. generally require the acquisition, licensing and deployment of a dedicated application. In reality, however, that may not be what users really want. Most people simply wish to invoke B.I. functionality within their application. Having to exit one application in order to analyze data stored in another is annoying. Worse yet, it creates a lot of needless data-migration and application-integration headaches for everybody involved.
For these reasons, a lot of B.I. functionality is now directly embedded inside applications. Developers know they can build this sort of capability—but that it takes a lot of time and effort. Many have started adding B.I. functionality to applications via B.I. open-source components such as the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) from The Eclipse Foundation.
Developed by Actuate and IBM, the open-source version of BIRT is much like any other open-source component a developer might choose to incorporate into an application. Case in point is Access Data, a Broadridge Company, which uses Eclipse BIRT as part of an analytics application, delivered as a service, for managing sales organizations.
Chris Assenza, director of software development for Access Data, believes Eclipse BIRT significantly reduces the amount of time needed to bring B.I. functionality to market. It also allows Access Data developers to spend additional hours working on more complex application logic. “BIRT is relatively simple to use and easy to integrate,” he said. “Other approaches are more complex and not quite as intuitive.”
There’s a continuing need for standalone B.I. applications that can correlate and analyze information across multiple applications. But according to David Armstrong, Actuate’s vice president of OEM, it’s clear that B.I. will eventually become a required feature within every application environment—perhaps even resulting in a federated B.I. experience across multiple applications.
Armstrong added that the single biggest opportunity for B.I. developers could center on legacy applications. Rewriting these applications is not economically feasible for most organizations. Yet enhancing them with added B.I. functionality, in the form of an Eclipse BIRT module, may very well add value to the application in a way that doesn’t require much programming effort. “Developers can choose to provide their own support or upgrade to the commercial version to get support from us,” he said.
Getting In Sync
At its most fundamental, every application is a digital manifestation of a business process. The trouble most end users have with any application is discerning what all the numbers inside those applications actually mean. The sad fact of the matter is that business executives routinely make decisions based on incomplete information or incorrect assumptions, simply because they couldn’t identify trends and inconsistences inside an application. Integrated B.I. functionality makes it possible to visualize processes in ways that enable better business decisions.
And despite endless numbers of focus groups with end users, developers still sometimes find themselves out-of-sync with the needs and wants of employees who use their applications. B.I. also offers a way to harmonize developer and employee viewpoints, by making it easier for the average user to clearly understand the information conveyed by the application.
When end users don’t need to guess so much about what that information means for their business, the developer can spend less time and effort tweaking, and more on adding layers of unique functionality to an application. That’s pretty much the definition of a win-win for everybody concerned.
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