Business success hinges on the ability to make data-driven decisions, often in real time. The last thing business leaders and staff want to do is toggle among multiple systems used to manage key business processes, as has been the case with business intelligence (BI) applications and platforms that, in some cases, became silos of their own.
Embedded reporting — “where data analysis occurs within a user’s natural workflow,” as defined by Gartner — aims to change that. Indeed, embedded reports means analytics capabilities are baked into an application, presenting BI in an easily digestible, visual format right inside those core business systems. Employees throughout an organization can use embedded reporting to perform their roles, using timely data and insights that cut across functions. As companies look to data-driven intelligence to manage core processes and make strategic decisions, the value of embedded analytics will continue to grow.
What Is Embedded Reporting?
Embedded reporting integrates reporting and analytics capabilities into core business software, such as customer relationship management (CRM), accounting, human resources (HR) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). Doing so gives decision makers easy access to data analytics and reporting functionality relevant to their roles and across all business functions from within the software they’re using. Role-based dashboards and up-to-date key performance indicators (KPIs) enable users to track business performance within the applications they use most. Ready-made and customizable reports and analytics capabilities are also key features.
For example, an accounting team armed with an embedded reporting tool within their company’s accounting software could create a graphical representation showing the volume and dollar value of past-due invoices, segmented by region and sales rep. A distribution manager could add filters, such as how long a customer has been on board and their customer lifetime value, to make a decision on how to proceed. Embedded reporting and analytics gives employees faster access to the data, as well as meaningful insight into financial and operational performance across multiple subsidiaries, departments and teams. While some applications have native, high-level reporting capabilities, embedded reporting tools typically provide greater functionality, flexibility and consistency in gathering data and deriving insights.
- Embedded reporting and analytics works within an organization’s core business applications.
- Software with embedded reporting and analytics offers faster access to business intelligence for day-to-day management and strategic decision-making.
- Embedding reporting empowers nontechnical users to analyze data and create high-end visualizations and dashboards.
Embedded Reporting Explained
Successful companies have long relied on enterprise software to manage their operations — from supply chain and inventory management to finance and accounting to sales and marketing and beyond — and help perform many of their day-to-day tasks. However, when faced with the need to correlate large amounts of data for more strategic decision-making, function-specific tools can fall short.
Professionals in finance, for example, may have to perform a great deal of manual work to produce basic reports or perform rudimentary data analysis — and analyzing greater volumes of data would require the aid of systems engineers or data scientists. While some BI platforms offer native reporting capabilities, they may have their own specific formats and methods for aggregating, organizing, visualizing and distributing data. This can create data and insights silos rather than broadly shared business intelligence.
But embedded reporting and analytics simplifies the process of producing reports and performing data analysis by pulling information from one or more applications and presenting it in an easy-to-read format that can be made accessible to anyone in the organization. True embedded reporting integrates analytics at the code level so users can generate insights that inform strategic decision-making. Such integrated capabilities are helpful for managers and executives who, for example, don’t need to know the specific details of a business unit but may want a high-level overview of an operational or finance situation.
Leading software vendors incorporate embedded reporting and analytics into their offerings. Prebuilt reports, role-specific dashboards and self-service capabilities enable employees across functions to perform more efficient reporting and analytics, gain visibility into various aspects of business performance and ultimately make better business decisions.
Goals of Embedded Reporting
There are many reasons why a business would want to incorporate embedded analytics and reporting tools, like charts and dashboards, into their core software applications. At a high level, embedded reporting and analytics can produce actionable insights that lead to more informed and timely decision-making. More specifically, businesses may want to enable:
- User-friendly executive reporting: Function-specific applications are often too complex to navigate for leaders who don’t use them day to day. Managers and executives value embedded reporting for its ability to paint a broad picture of various aspects of business operations so they can draw high-level conclusions and selectively drill down for more strategic analysis.
- Better data visualization: While an application for, say, tracking sales may have some data visualization tools built in, its primary function is to track sales. Similarly, the primary function of a payroll tool is to manage payroll. Embedding more advanced and easy-to-use tools built specifically with reporting in mind can deliver superior visualization functionality and make data easier to share, digest and explore.
- Centralized functionality: Employees seeking to produce a data visualization shouldn’t have to log in to a half-dozen different systems to gather the information they need. Embedded reporting functionality offers a single user interface on the front end and the ability to access data from one or more underlying applications.
- Self-service capabilities: Embedded reporting and analytics empowers users to take advantage of standard reports or create custom-designed reports on their own without the need for help from technical resources. Examples include interactive dashboards, data analysis reports and predictive analytics reports. Users can also easily export and share the reports that they create.
- Consistent, familiar interface: Embedded reporting and analytics takes on the look and feel of the application in which it resides, making these functions familiar to employees already using the application. Such functionality also enables companies to create consistent dashboard formats and report types across the business.
How Is Embedded Reporting Used?
Any area in which a business is seeking insight from large volumes of data from across its business functions is ripe for use of embedded reporting and analytics. That means there are countless use cases for embedded reporting across business functions, from finance and operations to HR and marketing.
Some of the key features that businesses seek from embedded reporting and analytics modules include:
Advanced analytics:Leading software makers have embedded self-service analytics capabilities into core business operations. Users can easily explore their data, create advanced criteria filters and produce real-time visualizations on their own.
Report creation:Embedded reporting tools typically deliver a set of standard reports, as well as report-writing tools for customization. Reports can be created and modified based on business needs.
KPI tracking:Software with embedded reporting functionality can present business-critical information like KPIs in easy-to-digest formats, saving time and effort for users and facilitating greater business responsiveness and agility.
Real-time dashboards:Best-in-class embedded reporting functionality delivers real-time dashboards that enable enterprise software users to visualize intelligence from all areas of the company. Like reports, these dashboards can be customized as needed to meet the specific, often changing needs of the business.
Armed with these capabilities, companies can make greater use of their enterprise data for strategic planning and decision-making. For example, the CFO of a pool supplies company could generate a graphic to show how increases in the average value of new sales over the previous two years correlate with rising temperatures and population growth in the company’s markets. Its HR team might compile a list of employees with more than five days of paid time off remaining as the company nears the end of its fiscal year, so managers can encourage employees to recharge and the business can avoid carrying over a liability. The logistics lead might correlate data from supply chain management and point-of-sale data systems projecting demand for pool chemicals to check that there’s no pending shortage of raw materials.
Benefits of Embedded Reporting
The benefits of embedding reporting and analytics functionality into core business applications are in addition to those of standalone BI tools. Some of the biggest advantages include:
Ease of use:Embedded reporting tools provide a familiar user experience for employees already acquainted with an enterprise business application. They are typically easy to use and navigate, with features designed to make generating useful reports quick and easy, even for non-technologists.
Increased efficiency and productivity:Prebuilt, industry-standard reports and no-code customization capabilities free up business users from the pain of inefficient, and often ineffective, manual reporting. Some embedded reporting and analytics modules enable users to automate a variety of routine tasks and reports.
Data and report consolidation:Embedded reporting functionality centralizes financial and operational data, eliminating silos and the need to reconcile information and spreadsheets with preserving data integrity and reporting reliability.
Real-time transparency:Embedded reporting and analytics tools enable a business to incorporate real-time business metrics and KPIs into dashboards, offering greater visibility across all business functions.
Self-service:Embedded reporting and analytics tools are built so anyone in the business can use them without the need for help from developers, data scientists or other technical resources.
Best-in-class visualizations:Embedded reporting tools facilitate the creation of high-level graphical content, such as presentation-caliber graphs, charts, animations and company-specific fonts, logos and color schemes.
Drawbacks of Embedded Reporting
The benefits of embedded reporting are all relatively straightforward. However, when evaluating the implementation of embedded reporting and analytics within enterprise applications, there are some considerations to take into account.
- Cost: Companies of every size have found the investment to be valuable, but total costs of on-premises solutions often include an implementation fee, annual licensing and graduating costs based on number of users and which modules the business wants to use. However, because most enterprise software with embedding reporting is sold as a cloud-based service, companies have greater flexibility in determining what capabilities they’ll need over time and adding services with the pay-as-you-go model.
- Functionality: One of the upsides of embedded reporting is that it is tightly integrated within the core software used by businesses. The downside, in some cases, is that the reporting and analytics may have limited functionality, reducing overall business benefit.
- Customization: Another possible issue, depending on the software, could be limited customization capabilities. Most leading enterprise software vendors offer some ability to customize ad hoc reports, but it’s important to understand what the vendor can support and whether the prebuilt configurations will work for a specific business.
- Buy-in: With any new software or functionality, the business must get users on board. Offering adequate training and change management is critical to wide adoption of embedded reporting and analytics capabilities.
What Industries Use Embedded Reporting?
Embedded reporting offers business value across industries that rely on data to support performance growth, from retailers and manufacturers to banks and insurance companies to nonprofits and government agencies.
Some industries have a more obvious and business-critical need for the deep data analysis that embedded reporting and analytics can provide. For example, hospitals use embedded reporting to track and report on patient statistics and health care trends, such as the number of flu cases in the geographic area they serve. Financial institutions might use these tools to track deposits and loans, interest rates and prices on securities, bonds and commodities. A hotel chain might use embedded reporting to track and optimize occupancy rates at its properties spread across the country or the globe.
How to Choose the Right Embedded Reporting Tool
The market for embedded reporting tools is relatively large, as many established vendors recognize the value such capabilities can deliver for their customers. This can make it challenging for businesses to choose a vendor, but it also gives them a robust marketplace (and a wide variety of price points) from which to choose.
Ultimately, the choice comes down to a balance between functionality and cost.
A solid way to begin is by defining the business need: who the primary intended beneficiaries of these capabilities are. Next, solicit feedback on what problems embedded reporting and analytics might solve for them. Note that the beneficiaries are not necessarily the same as day-to-day users of a piece of enterprise software. For example, executives may delegate the task of creating reports from the embedded reporting tool to an admin. Involving both users and beneficiaries is essential.
From a technical standpoint, the IT team should be involved to ensure that the options on the business’s short list can integrate with all existing third-party or homegrown core business applications. The technology organization can also help evaluate the capabilities of potential offerings.
Companies should be objective about the potential business value of embedded reporting before determining a budget. Such ROI calculations are often heavily focused on time to insights, which are fairly easy to put a dollar figure on. But often the greater benefits include better strategic decision-making and improved communication with customers and business partners, which should also be factored into the equation.
Top Embedded Reporting Features
Enterprise software vendors continually strive to add value and differentiate their offerings from their competitors’. This “arms race” has led to valuable new embedded reporting features. However, not every company will need every bell and whistle. Some of the top features to look for include:
Integration and interface:The robustness of a system’s integration capabilities is paramount. Any tool you select must be able to import/export or read data from all key business applications. It’s also important to make sure the interface for building reports aligns with the technical capabilities of a company’s user base.
Automated reports:Having a streamlined, consistent tool for creating and viewing reports can save a significant amount of time, but even more time can be saved if those reports can be created and distributed automatically. Many tools allow this. For example, an accountant can create a recurring report based on the previous month’s overdue invoices that is to be distributed to the entire management team on the first Monday of each month. Once the report template is set up, the report will be generated and distributed automatically.
Predictive capabilities:Knowing what’s going on now is good; combining data to find insights on what may happen in the future is even better. Look for advanced capabilities, like machine learning and predictive analytics, that can provide a competitive edge.
Mobile and self-service support:Some embedded reporting tools are compatible with mobile devices, so users can access the reports and data they need even when they’re away from their desks. Also look for a user interface that encourages employees to compile their own custom reports without the need to involve IT.
White labeling/customization:White labeling refers to making a third-party product or service look like the customer company’s product or service. In terms of embedded reporting, this refers to the ability to create custom report templates that provide consistent branding.
Broad choice of graphs and charts:Data visualization is more important than ever. The greater the variety of reports, and the more digestible they are, the more valuable the tool is for users creating data presentations for internal or external consumption.
Purchase model:These tools are available as on-premises systems that the company purchases and hosts or as cloud-based systems delivered in an SaaS subscription model. The advantages and disadvantages track those of most cloud vs. on-premises choices, such as ERP.
Discover Actionable Insights With NetSuite SuiteAnalytics
NetSuite SuiteAnalytics is an embedded analytics and reporting solution that provides roles-based, real-time visibility across all business functions. Working from a centralized database, business leaders and users can quickly and easily access prebuilt and customized reports and monitor key performance indicators on their own, without turning to IT for assistance. With actionable analytics at their fingertips, businesses can realize greater business efficiencies and make more data-informed decisions. In addition, SuiteAnalytics Workbook turns multiple datasets into easy-to-read dashboards with visualizations that help business leaders monitor — and, in turn, boost — company performance.
As businesses continue to accumulate more and more data, the popularity of embedded reporting and analytics tools within enterprise software will continue to grow. Indeed, it is already becoming the rule rather than the exception in many leading companies.
Embedded reporting tools deliver a consistent, customizable and self-service way to analyze business data and report on the resulting insights. The wide variety of products available on the market means that most businesses can find a solution that fits their reporting needs at a cost that allows them to generate a meaningful return on that investment.
Embedded Reporting FAQs
What does it mean to embed BI and reporting?
Embedding business intelligence (BI) and reporting refers to the process of integrating a BI or reporting tool into an existing business application. The underlying application may be efficient at its primary tasks, such as tracking sales activity, but the embedding reporting function gives it the ability to analyze and organize data used in strategic analysis and planning, as well.
How do we choose the right embedded reporting tool?
As companies consider which embedded reporting tool is best for them, they need to balance functionality and cost. This analysis can be enhanced by first defining the business need, gathering insight from business users, building a full business case for the investment and evaluating the enterprise software with embedded reporting capabilities.
What is embedded analysis?
Embedded analysis, or embedded analytics, refers to the inclusion of advanced analytics capabilities built in as a module within a piece of enterprise software. Embedding analytics into the software (and workflows) that employees use every day empowers them to incorporate data-driven insights into management and decision-making. Enterprise software, like ERP or CRM, with embedded analytics empowers even nontechnical users to easily explore their data, create advanced criteria filters and produce real-time visualizations on their own.