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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group,a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.

Embedded BI is a largely invisible part of the BI market, but for some vendors, such as Logi Analytics, Jaspersoft, and Pentaho, it represents a large portion of their annual revenues. And that revenue stream is destined to grow as new cloud and big data applications embed interactive reporting and analysis capabilities.

As I said in my previous blog ("Historical BI Cycles: From Reporting to Analysis and the Future"), the next major wave in BI is embedded BI. That wave won't become mainstream until we move past the current analysis phase sometime in 2015 at the earliest. But in many ways, embedded BI represents the fulfillment of BI's promise, in which it becomes an information service that informs day-to-day operations and automatically triggers decisions and actions that drive the business.

Karl Van den Bergh, vice president of products and alliances at Jaspersoft, has crafted a model of the evolution of embedded BI. (See figure 1.) Since I found it instructive, I thought you might too.

Figure 1. Evolution of Embedded BI (click to enlarge)

Embedded BI.jpg

The first generation of embedded BI is represented by Crystal Reports, which was widely embedded in many software products, including Microsoft Visual Basic, usually with a restricted license for up to five users or a single data source. Crystal Reports was proprietary software that developers embedded into their own solutions using code-specific libraries. In the 1990s, embedded report writers, such as Crystal Reports, generally produced static reports.

The second generation in the 2000s marked the ascendance of open source or low-cost, developer-friendly BI products that support interactive reporting, dashboarding, and OLAP functionality. The leading embeddable BI products are Logi Analytics, Pentaho, Jaspersoft, and Actuate BIRT. Developers use desktop tools to create Web-based BI content which they can then embed into host applications using Web services (e.g. SOAP) or HTML tags, such as iFrame. The Web-enabled BI applications run as separate Web sites and thus share no code or libraries with the host applications they support so there are no mutual dependencies or versioning considerations. They can even run on a separate server to avoid performance issues.

The third generation, which is emerging today, moves beyond the Web to the Cloud. Here, BI tools are available as cloud-based BI services from Cloud platform providers, such as Amazon Web Services, Red Hat OpenShift, Pivotal CloudFoundry, and GoGrid. Developers can rent these cloud-based BI tools by the hour from cloud platform providers instead of licensing and installing the tools from a BI provider's Web site. Developers then use a Web browser (i.e. no desktop tool) to create BI content that can access both structured and unstructured data and support the full range of BI functionality, including data exploration and authoring. Host applications access the BI content via REST interfaces and Javascript and pass through single sign-on controls to support virtualization and multi-tenancy. Jaspersoft is one of the first BI vendors to adopt the characteristics of third generation embedded BI.


Embedded BI has evolved in lockstep with application developers, moving from the desktop to the Web to the cloud. Along the way, BI tools have gotten more powerful and easier to use and embed. They offer application developers the full range of BI functionality--from reports and dashboards to analysis, discovery, and authoring--within an easy-to-use, point-and-click development interface. Moreover, thanks the openness of the Web, BI applications are no longer embedded within the code of a host application, but rather sit adjacent to that application, providing easier deployment and administration and higher degrees of scalability and performance.

Posted May 23, 2013 9:29 AM
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