Data Franchises in SharePoint: client analytics sites using factory automation

What comes to your mind when I use the word “franchise?”  A fast food restaurant, a gas station, or a convenience store?  Perhaps you thought of a collection of car dealerships in the suburbs?  What about a certain hospital or healthcare center?  . . .

What about something entirely unfamiliar and contemporary – what about data?

Data?  How does one go about franchising data?

Data has become increasingly interconnected, with multiple sources being aggregated and rolled into a clustered nest of information.  And it’s easy to keep piling data upon data and adding connections to other databases and exposing more and more APIs – but more data isn’t better data.   People don’t need more data, they need a deeper understanding of a given dataset; they need insights that satisfy and influence critical decisions.

Presenting data intelligently from within an integrated platform is not an emerging trend; however, the technology to take the same data and connect one or more clients to their own analytics site is brand new.  One such platform solution is with Microsoft SharePoint and SQL Server Reporting Services, which has been made more powerful in recent years with the addition of technologies like PerformancePoint, PowerView, and Excel Services.  Franchise factories, in the abstract sense, can be constructed to create SharePoint sites that are based on an original source reference; these site copies each operate independent of one another, but have the same connections to a shared dataset and share a foundational starter template for the set of reports and dashboards.  It’s a similar concept to how fast food chains are constructed using a template and share the same restricted resources; however, in many aspects, they operate independent of one another.  We are leveraging current technology and combining it with older, 20th century concepts like franchising and factory automation to produce SharePoint sites that act as an independent analytics platforms.

People don’t need more data, they need a deeper understanding of a given dataset; they need insights that satisfy and influence critical decisions.

But before you can begin franchising your data; first, make sure your data and accompanying analytics platform is something you’re going to be able to sell and be profitable.  Create a site that will act as a prototype, if you’re able; and get your company’s departments to start consuming and using a shared data source.  Collect feedback from ongoing usage and remove features that don’t work – build upon, and expand reports and features that are commonly used and loved.  It’s important to ensure your analytics platform isn’t so customized that no insight or meaning can be obtained from potential customers.

That’s not to say that SharePoint site can’t be customized after being created with a template; quite the opposite, actually.  For past clients, we’ve standardized on a skeletal structure of the site, but exposed key “look and feel” configuration options.  Providing a finite amount of customization options prevents too much variance between client sites and aids in supportability.

Clients will use your solution in new ways that you did not anticipate. Business needs will evolve and they will expect upgrades and new features; they will want customizations, and that’s okay – just make sure to establish a set vocabulary of options to each client.  Provide them a menu of options from which to order.  Release new features in the form of site template updates to keep customers happy.  You will naturally gain insight into new feature ideas if you continue to use the same analytics platform that you have licensed to your customers.

We are leveraging current technology and combining it with older, 20th century concepts like franchising and factory automation to produce SharePoint sites that act as independent analytics platforms.

Once you have your infrastructure setup such that a new analytics site can be provisioned using your analytics platform template, you need to start thinking about security.  Previous clients have opted for a customer-facing extranet portal, with users segregated to a separate domain.  The number of analytics sites you create, and who your clients are, will dictate what security options make the most sense. You might have to delegate a user identity to a back-end data source, and every hop in the solution architecture can pose authentication and delegation challenges.

Licensing can be done in a traditional sense, which is to say per user, per month.  After all, you have to make these extra site collections profitable if you are to be paying for client access licenses.  Consider other licensing models based on events; for example, SharePoint could be extended to keep track of user activity, and the customer could only be billed based on actual usage, which would likely lead to a lower cost passed to the customer, which results in customer retention and quality of service.  Sometimes the most simple licensing model is the most effective, such as an annual fixed cost for unlimited users.  Cost analysis will always need to be performed to determine the licensing model that makes the most business sense.

We have helped clients in various industries, from insurance to healthcare, develop and implement an extranet portal strategy that allowed them to serve intelligent analytics to their clients.  Please contact Rick Williams (rwilliams@westmonroepartners.com) or Kaumil Dalal (kdalal@westmonroepartners.com) for more information on how we can work with you to develop an analytics extranet portal strategy and help build highly secure and visually appealing analytics sites.

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Phone: 312-602-4000
Email: marketing@westmonroepartners.com
222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
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