Next-Generation Analytics

Today BA Insight announced a strategic and exclusive partnership with NGAGE Intelligence to develop a Next-Generation Analytics Platform. By the end of Q2, we expect to have a new platform available which will give our customers unparalleled insight into user interaction across multiple systems.  We’re leveraging technology from both companies as well as the latest in business intelligence from Microsoft to bring a unique solution to market quickly.

I’m excited to be working with the NGAGE team on this.  They are specialists in behavioral analytics, have a proven product that their customers love, and are intimate with the Microsoft BI stack.  They are also just plain good guys – the more I get to know them the more I’m impressed with them.  We also share a vision around insight from cross-system analytics.  Both companies have a strong track record with law firms, and the new analytics platform is designed with the needs of law firms in mind – though it will be applicable and valuable to organizations in any industry.

How to convince your CEO without really trying

BA Insight came out with our SmartHub Analytics product only this past spring, and it’s doing quite well.  You might think we would be focused only on marketing Smart Analytics and helping customers be successful with it.  But I have been an advocate of increasing our development investment as well.  When I briefed one of my friends and former mentors on this she asked, “so how did you get your CEO to double down?”

Luckily it wasn’t that hard.  Our CEO, Massood Zarrabian, is very sharp.  He just needed clear answers to a few questions:

  • Why is analytics strategic to our customers and to BA Insight?
  • What are we bringing to the market that is special?
  • What is the synergy with NGAGE?
  • How does this fit with Microsoft’s analytics direction?
  • What does this mean for Smart Analytics?

That’s all.  Just answer a few questions.  You may be able to use this approach with your own CEO.  If you do, my advice is simple: have really solid answers.  Here’s the answers to the five questions my CEO posed:

Analytics is strategic

BA Insight’s products are used in employee-facing solutions like research portals, intranets, and digital workplaces.  Engaging employees is essential and it requires solutions that let them do their jobs efficiently and improves the overall productivity of the enterprise.  This is a continuous process and one you can’t do flying blind.  You need Analytics.

Analytics is strategic to our customers.  They all understood the value of analytics for their web sites – and web analytics is a thriving market.  But some of them don’t realize the value of analytics for employee-facing applications yet, and relatively few companies have good analytics tools for their intranet.

That’s starting to change.  As Sam Marshall of Clearbox Consulting said in a recent report, “In general, organisations are only starting to explore the possibilities of mining and analysing the data they have to deliver valuable insights. Intranets and digital workplaces can provide a rich seam of data about what employees do and think. In the same way that website analytics have driven improvements in online sales and service delivery, using analytics available from internal systems is an opportunity for CEOs and CIOs to improve organisational outcomes.”

What we learned from delivering Smart Analytics is that our customers could quickly understand why analytics is important.  We also found customers that have good insight into how users are interacting with their systems to get better results, increase the value they receive from our other products, and quickly identify areas where they can improve.  Often, those improvements can be accomplished using our product portfolio, so analytics complements our connectivity, classification, and application products well.

Unique value providing insight across multiple systems

One of BA Insight’s core strengths is the ability to connect to many different systems and integrate them quickly into a unified view.  We understand in our bones that organizations have multiple key systems –so we are in a great position to deliver analytics that work on multiple systems.

The NGAGE architecture fits this very well.  Working with NGAGE, we will be able to provide insight across different systems.  We are targeting a first version that includes iManage, Thomson Reuters Elite, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and SharePoint (2013, 2016 and O365/SharePoint Online). We’ll be able to add more systems quickly based on customer demand.

This includes a set of core systems used heavily in the legal services industry, so it will give law firms insight into how their key systems are being used, in a single product.

Synergy between NGAGE Intelligence and BA Insight

I already touched on NGAGE’s strength in behavioral analytics, and on how we shared a vision around insight from cross-system analytics.  What we discovered was that we had a lot of synergy in our analytics products as well, because we took different approaches.

NGAGE has a cube-based architecture and a heritage deep in BI.  Their approach makes it easy to add new systems to their data model and to apply different BI tools in the front end.

BA Insight’s heritage is with search, and our Smart Analytics puts a particular focus on deep insight into user interactions with search.  We’ve developed some special techniques and metrics that go well beyond anything else on the market.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this was completely complementary to NGAGE.

And of course, there’s our company names.   Don’t Intelligence and Insight go hand in hand?

Fit with Microsoft’s Analytics Direction

As a close Microsoft partner, we are very familiar with the benefits and risks of “dancing with the elephant”.   So is NGAGE.  This boils down to two questions:

  • Are we able to leverage the latest Microsoft stack and keep up with the changes, so that our customers get value, our offering is “future proof” to them, and we get faster to market?
  • Is there overlap between what we offer and what customers can get out-of-the-box from Microsoft – today or in the future?

PowerBI and StreamAnalytics

Microsoft’s BI stack has been fragmented for some time, with a set of SQL-server based capabilities, legacy dashboarding tools like PerformancePoint, and a separate new PowerBI product that ran only as a SaaS service.  Microsoft has recently given new life to SQL Server Reporting Services and Analysis Services through a very strong 2016 release, an ability to run on-prem or in the cloud, and an integration with PowerBI.  PowerBI 2.x added hybrid connectivity to on-premises data sources (meaning that not all data must first be pushed and loaded into the Microsoft Azure cloud), and Microsoft substantially lowered the price.

NGAGE and BA Insight agreed that betting on PowerBI fed from SSAS provided an easy-to-use, low cost solution.  We’ve also found a way to create a solution that can run entirely on-premises (a requirement from a number of our customers) as well as in a cloud-based or hybrid configuration.  It’s also clear that Microsoft will continue to invest very strongly in PowerBI.

We’ll also be adding in an option for real-time insights, by using Microsoft’s stream analytics.  This will require using the cloud, but it means we can deliver a unique capability to market very quickly.

Microsoft Analytics Offerings – Will Microsoft Step on Us?

With any of our products, a question for us and our customers is whether there will be an out-of-the-box capability from Microsoft that does a “good enough” job.   There are certainly Microsoft capabilities and initiatives in analytics, but I’m very confident that nothing will compete with either our current or future analytics products.

First of all, by its very nature, Microsoft won’t create an analytics product that works across competing products made by other companies.  Our next-generation platform explicitly aims at providing analytics on a variety of different systems, both Microsoft and non-Microsoft.

Secondly, there is a clear gap in analytics even in the Microsoft arena, specifically around behavioral analytics for SharePoint and Dynamics.  Analytics happens at three layers and Microsoft’s focus is on providing out-of-the-box solutions for the first two layers and BI platforms that allow others to provide the third layer.  The three layers are:

fig 1Infrastructure: monitoring the health and availability of machines, networks, and services.  Microsoft offers three primary tools for this: the long-established on-premises System Center Operations Manager (OM), the Microsoft-hosted Log Analytics service, and the new Azure Monitor service.

Application: analyzing the usage and performance of applications (such as SharePoint or For Microsoft applications, there are built-in analytics of varying quality and depth for these.  There is also a new Azure App Insights service.

Behavior: looks at user behavior across an application, finding patterns and areas where users are successful and where they are not. For the most part, this is not covered by Microsoft out-of-the-box, and is left for partner products or for organizations to build their own, using Microsoft’s BI stack as we are doing with NGAGE.

There is a clear, long-term market for independent analytics tools at this layer, even if they only focus on SharePoint.

Smart Analytics and the next-generation NGAGE platform

With the news about a next-generation platform in the works, what is the fate of Smart Analytics?   Once we determined that the approaches that BA Insight and NGAGE Intelligence had developed were complementary and the overlap between current products was minimal, this was an easy question to answer. Smart Analytics has a clear path forward, and customers who deploy Smart Analytics today will be able to continue to use it as well as integrate it with the new platform along with analytics from new systems.  Similarly, existing NGAGE customers will be able to take advantage of the new platform.

NGAGE is well-known for its very detailed insights into adoption and engagement levels, and this will apply to the next-generation platform as well – but with Power-BI based dashboards, real-time capabilities, and deep search insights from Smart Analytics – across many different systems.

Full Steam Ahead

With answers to my CEO’s questions in hand, it was easy to get a green light. The NGAGE team is already engaged (so to speak) in development of this new product.  We’re excited about the unique insights we’re bringing to our customers and the new level of analytics we are bringing to the marketplace.

If you’d like to know more, drop us a line and we’ll happily discuss your analytics needs.