Build analytics into business applications

After Salesforce, Zendesk decided it needed its own analytics tool and acquired a startup to integrate the data delivery chain

Announced within a day of the mega takeover of EMC by Dell, the acquisition of BIME Analytics by Zendesk pretty much flew under the radar. I guess people who noticed are either well plugged in the French startup world (BIME is made in France -- more precisely in Montpellier, a rising star of the French tech ecosystem) or deeply attuned to the need for business applications to make better use of their data. I happen to belong to both groups -- I have crossed paths with BIME before through my French connections, and I happen to be convinced of the value of integrating both the data supply chain and the data delivery chain.

Let users extract data

If you operate or provide a business application -- ERP, CRM, accounting, supply chain, support, and so on -- chances are your customers already use a reporting or analytics solution. Therefore, your first requirement should be to provide a way for them to extract your data and feed it into a third-party system. Whether through good old (but often impractical) CSV exports or modern and easier-to-use (if well-documented) REST APIs, you are letting users extract certain data sets, and what they do with these is up to them.

This is really level zero of integration. It's not the most powerful or comprehensive, entailing various levels of automation, but at least you have integration with the outside world, which is pretty much table stakes today.

Have the integration “pros” support you

By integration “pros” I mean the vendors whose job it is to extract and move data around. The most obvious candidates are the ETL/data integration vendors (Informatica, Talend, and so on) and the iPaaS vendors (these same two, plus SnapLogic, Boomi, and more) who may or may not be talked into building a connector for your application (if you have APIs it’s easier than if they have to read your system tables). Then you have the “citizen integrator” tools -- Zapier, IFTTT -- a lot more simplistic, but in cases that’s all your users need.

The good thing about working with the integration pros is that it opens up a myriad of possibilities. Your users can get your data into pretty much any system they want, merge and cross-reference it with any other enterprise (or not) data set. And they use whichever reporting or analytics tool they want.

(Disclaimer: I used to work at Talend and still own shares.)

Partner with a BI tool

This works in a similar way than integrating with the integration pros, except you need to pick your partner. Plenty of them are out there, on-premises or in the cloud -- Qlik, Tableau, GoodData -- but if a client is using another one, this may not work too well for them.

On the plus side, you will be able to prebuild specific reports and dashboards that work well with your application and your data, making it easier to onboard your clients.

This integration can take several forms -- from a simple connector/certification all the way through to an OEM/reseller through which you actually provide the solution with different levels of embedding and/or white labeling. Several tools are especially suited to be easy to embed; for example, this is how Jaspersoft got most of its traction (before TIBCO bought it).

Build or buy a tool

If you think having full control of your analytics is required, then you are left with two options: build your own solution, or buy one. did the former when it released Wave, its “analytic cloud” a year ago. It looks like Zendesk preferred to take a shorter route with the acquisition of BIME Analytics.

In both cases, though, since it’s about gaining control of critical data assets throughout the entire lifecycle of these assets, I believe the price paid for this is absolutely worth it.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.