June 25, 2018. OrangeBoy is a business solutions company based in Columbus, Ohio. In 2014, OrangeBoy created Savannah, a solution running on Microsoft Azure that helps libraries track customer use patterns. The company wanted to improve reporting, analytics, and visualization capabilities in Savannah, so it deployed Microsoft Power BI Embedded for built-in visualizations and automatic updates. Now, 70 library systems across North America, including Oak Park in Illinois, use Savannah to analyze data and generate reports to meet customer needs, gather feedback, and communicate with precision to customers.
Look around a public library today and you'll see many types of customers using library services for different purposes: a grandparent and child curled up with a picture book, a student poring over reference materials, an entrepreneur using the internet to scour new opportunities, a teenager downloading an e-book.
Founded in 1996, OrangeBoy helps public library systems with strategic planning, customer segmentation, and marketing. The company—whose name was inspired by a bold orange cat named Opie—has since seen library use shift dramatically. As fewer customers check out physical books, libraries have increased electronic and online services to stay relevant. They've evolved to offer the modern services that communities want and need, while striving to operate as efficiently as possible.
"Public funding is linked to use, and libraries simply can't afford to offer services that patrons don't use. Libraries need to know who's using what so they can focus their resources on those services," says Chris Kelbley, Chief Technology Officer at OrangeBoy.
In 2014, OrangeBoy built Savannah, a software as a service (SaaS) solution running in Microsoft Azure. With Savannah, libraries can track useful data—such as book genre circulation history, quantity and location of checkouts, media format, and download services—to help them better meet customer needs. Libraries use Savannah to pinpoint the services that customers are using the most, and then target email campaigns to engage those customers. They can also monitor branch use at specific times to ensure adequate staffing. Most libraries track data from at least 100,000 customer records, and some larger Savannah customers have more than a million records.
Analytics and visualization boost
Savannah had basic visualization capabilities that included filtering and reordering, but for anything more sophisticated, OrangeBoy developers had to write new code. Each library system had slightly different needs, so customization was labor-intensive. The company wanted to make Savannah more flexible, while improving its reporting, analytics, and visualization capabilities.
In 2017, OrangeBoy deployed Microsoft Power BI Embedded to add advanced, but familiar and easy-to-use reporting and data visualization features to Savannah. The OrangeBoy development team could connect Power BI Embedded to its existing Azure SQL Database, and it did not have to spend time, effort, and resources on building and maintaining its own visualization engine.
"We realized that continuing to develop in-house would be a never-ending project for us," says Kelbley. "With Power BI Embedded, we could provide great visualization and analytics for our customers without spending time on one-off dashboard projects."
Oak Park Library uses reporting power
The Oak Park Public Library began using Savannah in 2017 and has become a power user of Power BI Embedded. Located outside Chicago, Illinois, the library is committed to meeting the needs of its 44,000 cardholders. "We are always exploring ways to expand our traditional library offerings to serve the community in new ways and evolve with the times," says David J. Seleb, Executive Director at Oak Park Public Library.
Like all libraries, Oak Park needed insights about customer activity, market penetration, and active use households, and had to manually generate reports. With Power BI Embedded in Savannah, Grant Halter, Data Analyst at Oak Park Library, can now quickly run standard reports and build Power BI visualizations without spending time on tedious manual processes.
"I save a lot of time with Power BI Embedded compared to running raw data reports, importing them into Excel, and creating visualization," says Halter. "It makes my life much easier to have the visualization already built in, so I can spend less time worrying about the graph format, and more time actually analyzing the data."
For library employees who are aren't data analysts, the improved visualizations make the data more useable and understandable. "The way the Power BI reports are formatted is intuitive for an employee in any role," says Halter. "It takes 10 seconds to understand a graph. It's rare to find a visualization tool that's so seamless to use out of the box."
Reduced IT labor, increased competitive edge
Back at OrangeBoy, the Savannah development team now spends practically no time creating customizations, which frees up time for more strategic tasks. "By using Power BI Embedded, we have the opportunity to stop fiddling with dashboards and focus on making Savannah the best product possible," says Kelbley.
With a richer product, more time for innovation, and better customer service, OrangeBoy believes it has gained a competitive advantage. "As a small company, we worried about competitors with massive resources who could build their own dashboard systems that blow us out of the water," says Kelbley. "But now that we have an industry-leading tool built into our application, our customers already have these capabilities."
New features without additional investment
OrangeBoy generates new advantages and features without additional investment. New updates are released regularly in Power BI Embedded, meaning the company can always offer leading-edge capabilities to its customers. For example, OrangeBoy historically offered static maps to libraries to show market area performance based on where patrons live. But now, since mapping visuals are enhanced regularly in Power BI Embedded, customers always have an up-to-date interactive map.
"Savannah now includes a Power BI Embedded interactive map that libraries can use to visualize and filter geographic data on their own," says Kelbley. "We didn't ask for it, didn't build it—but we can offer better services to our customers just by using Power BI Embedded."
New insights to help keep libraries relevant
Overall, OrangeBoy is using Power BI Embedded to help it home in on its primary goal: to provide the best and most comprehensible patron data possible to its budget-conscious customers. It helps libraries use data for their own internal operations, and it helps them share that data with the public. In turn, libraries will be better positioned to measure their success and stay relevant in the twenty-first century.
"Our customers use Power BI Embedded to uncover data that they couldn't before, and build reports for library leadership that will impact their future," says Kelbley. "We're helping libraries draw new and existing patrons, offer better services, and operate more efficiently."