"As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information."
- Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881), British Prime Minister
We are in a transformational time for Mobility and Mobile Business Intelligence, with lots of innovation happening in both hardware and software. Factors such as declining data plan prices, improved broadband availability, software investment, and widespread access to Smart Phone applications will continue to drive market acceptance as barriers to adoption fall away.
Taking a channel partner view of the market, this chart shows what SMB Channel Partners (50%+ Revenue from SMBs) are hearing from their customers: overall 60% report that customers are asking for Mobile Solutions, including ~80% of ISVs, 54% of VAR/Sis and 47% of Service Providers.
One of the trends in BI overall is a large increase in embedded BI functionality into software applications. This arose through the enterprise-level dashboards and reporting capabilities that SMBs saw with Salesforce.com functionality and quickly become must-have features for serious software applications, especially those delivered as a Service (SaaS). On premise and SaaS versions have been updated through development of new internal code or OEM arrangements and open source code from players like Pentaho and Jaspersoft.
Enabling BI mobility is accomplished by moving existing functionality to a mobile environment, using the new technologies on top of the old, which is more complicated than starting from scratch in many cases. The larger companies such as Oracle, IBM and SAP are approaching this through acquisition of smaller companies and integrating them into existing products. But in a classic build vs. buy fashion, smaller companies offering SaaS BI services have been building new offers from the ground up, directly employing the newest technologies like HTML5, iOS and Android for delivery to Apple devices, smartphones and the burgeoning number of tablets in the market. Smaller providers in many cases have gained a timing advantage; using native technology brings existing mobile functionality to bear on the problem; instead of simple links to server data, the presentation of the information can immediately be rich and interactive using screen manipulation, i.e., pinch and squeeze or geo-location awareness, as part of the data exploration and visualization experience.
Other features of “true” mobility integrated with “true” BI include the ability to interact with data objects on the screen, such as search, filters, check-boxes, drill-down and drill-through to the record level and other interactive functionality. Of course, then being able to use the built-in device communications capabilities is also important once the information has been isolated – SMS, email and forms should be available for manipulation and dissemination of the information.
Many use case scenarios present themselves from the low end retail – such as immediate revenue and profit reporting from the new generation of card swipers into QuickBooks or MS Dynamics and received on a smartphone, to a mid-market electronic component manufacturer checking inventory turns in the Singapore distribution center using SAP Business Objects or IBM Cognos 10 through a Samsung Galaxy Note Tablet.
Among the pure-play SaaS Mobile BI firms to have emerged in the last few years is Exxova, based out of Atlanta, which we chose as our Cloud Vendor Pick of the Week. We chose Exxova because they have a unique value proposition: although they use some of the most powerful back end analytics technology – SAP, Business Objects, Oracle, etc., they have managed to simplify this technology and allow administration of database structure and reporting by literally dragging and dropping fields in a web-based interface, creating new groups and calculations, and having the results delivered immediately through mobile devices running iOS and Android as described earlier. Having separated the reporting layer from the analytical engine allows them to provide deep BI capabilities to end users without the additional cost of licenses for all the back end tools, while at the same time allowing Flash and Flex to be delivered in original format to the Apple environment.
We interviewed their President Mark Hillam, a BI industry veteran and former Business Objects executive for this post. In response to how Exxova reduces complexity for the users and administrators of Mobile BI, Mr. Hillam replied:
“Every report, dashboard, and analytic is rendered with perfect fidelity to the original source. All of this is accomplished without any modification or changes to the Enterprise BI platform or the existing content. Even full report editing is capable from the mobile platforms.”
Exxova offers a strong example of true Mobile BI functionality which is relatively easy to administer and use at a good price point. There are others in the market such as SAP, Microstrategy, Oracle and IBM, who also have strong mobile solutions. For the SMB marketplace there will always be a balance between cost, complexity and functionality to be taken into account before long term commitments are made, Exxova seems to fit this space well. For more information, see it in action below.