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Smart Apps Take You From Insight to Action

Embedded BI and analytics are aimed at uniting analysis with business processes. The ultimate test: Helping employees make better decisions.

The really strategic, bet-the-company decisions by CEOs get most of the attention. But what matters even more are the ones frontline employees make every day -- the operations, sales, marketing, customer service, and other decisions that determine if a grand plan flies or flops.

That's why companies need smarter enterprise applications -- and why such apps as ERP and CRM that are already critical to companies will increasingly be used to deliver so-called "embedded business intelligence" and analytics.

Your company almost certainly has at least one BI system, and probably several. But is decision support delivered within the transactional interfaces that plant managers use to make production decisions? How about in the software that customer service reps use to guide interactions with each customer?

"Executives can't just stand up at the front of a room and say, 'This is the new corporate strategy.' You have to make sure your organization executes on that strategy in every transaction," says decision management expert James Taylor, co-author of the influential book Smart (Enough) Systems (Prentice Hall, 2007).

Some of the midtier enterprise application players, including Microsoft, Lawson Software, and Epicor, have advanced the notion of embedding insight with their latest product releases. Market leaders SAP and Oracle are poised to raise the bar. With its move to acquire Sybase and in announcements made last week, SAP made it clear it intends to deliver real-time BI and advanced predictive analytics directly within its applications. It's even promising to eliminate the need for separate BI and information management infrastructure, a development that would dramatically lower IT costs.

Oracle, too, will make embedded BI a big part of its Fusion Applications, due later this year. And it's sure to tie in its high-powered Exadata appliances, which can process both transactional and analytic workloads. It's a different route to the same destination: real-time insight within the application.

Use of Embedded BI Don't count out dedicated BI and analytics vendors. IBM, SAS, MicroStrategy, and others can make a strong argument that most companies have diverse applications, so companies need analysis tools that are agnostic to the data source and application.

There are two key tests for companies: Can they get better, timelier, and more usable intelligence from their apps and vendors? And can they drive operational decisions that are tied to their unique strategies? They can, though only if they carefully align those insights with their business goals and not depend on cookie-cutter dashboards and analytics.

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