Friday 8 April 2011

NOTE: Mobile BI at SAS Global Forum 2011

I bravely forecast before attending SAS Global Forum 2011 that Mobile BI would the *the* hot topic. Well, I wouldn't say that it was hot, but it was fresh from the oven and very tempting. In fact, SAS had not one, not two, but three types of mobile computing solutions on show. Those three types were:
  1. Roambi
  2. SAS Mobile
  3. Fit-to-task
In the opening session, Jim Davis (SAS Senior Vice President, and Chief Marketing Offer) showed a number of mobile apps on an iPad 2. He highlighted that SAS had created a new R&D organisation tasked solely with responsibility for User Interface (UI) development. In addition to using the iPad 2 to show a nice, generic BI dashboard app, Jim showed a social monitoring app for spotting sentiment in social streams (for handling cases of negative sentiment), plus a retail space app. All on iPad 2.

These last two examples are both fit-to-task mobile applications whereby the mobility of the device fits perfectly with the nature of the job, e.g. putting the right products, in the right quantity int he right place in each and every store.

The generic BI app looked like an instance of Roambi. SAS recently signed a partnership with Mellmo, the producers of Roambi. Roambi is one of the leading mobile BI solutions. When the SAS extensions are released in the next few weeks, Roambi will be able to read SAS metadata, such as web reports, and create Roambi content for consumption on mobile devices. In more detail, the Roambi solution breaks down into three components: Publisher, Server, and Viewer.

The Roambi server and publisher are able to read SAS metadata, apply Roambi templates to the content, and store the result. The viewer is then able to take the stored results and make them visible to users with any of the supported Roambi client apps. The advantages of Roambi are i) it is an industry standard that SAS customers may already be using to publish BI content from other vendors, ii) it is available in the next few weeks (for SAS 9.2), iii) quick "time-to-value" due to the re-use of existing SAS BI content.

The SAS Mobile solution is the third type of mobile computing solution for SAS. Not available until the end of the year, alongside SAS 9.3, SAS Mobile will offer SAS's "adaptive presentation " solution whereby any content can be consumed anywhere (almost!). SAS 9.3 will replace the Web Report Studio and BI Dashboard editors with one single, combined tool - The Designer. The new SAS Designer will the design and creation of reports of varying kinds, and will allow the user to specify the anticipated target devices. The Designer will create and store packages that contain content that is optimised for the target devices. A variety of SAS viewers will then be able to display the packages using the native look, feel and behaviour of the device.

So, in order to get SAS Mobile you'll need to upgrade to SAS 9.3. If you're already running SAS 9.2 then you can soon get Roambi without necessitating any upgrades.If you're currently running SAS 9.1 then you'll have to upgrade to get a mobile computing solution. SAS offer a metadata migration utility to take you from 9.1 to 9.2, and they'll offer a 9.2 to 9.3 option too. However, I didn't get any firm answer to the question of whether a 9.1 to 9.3 option will be available.

With any mobile solution, the issue of online versus offline is very important. The Roambi solution downloads all of the data that it requires. This means it can happily work offline, but also means the download can take a length of time. On the other hand, SAS intentions for the SAS Mobile solution are to provide some user control over what is downloaded.

Gartner estimate that 1/3 of all BI content will be consumed via a mobile device by 2013. That's a big shift from where we are today, but it's believable when you see enterprises buying into the technology so readily. The reasons are plain:
  • Mobile computing offers faster/better decision making and is analogous to mobile email that Blackberry delivers
  • Tablets are light and portable yet provide a big enough screen to be usable for "real work"
  • Total cost of ownership (TCO) is lower than for laptops
Challenges such as security have been largely resolved by the provision of features such as:
  • Email encryption
  • Passcode locks
  • The ability to remotely wipe the device if it is lost or stolen
So, Mobile computing wasn't hot this year. Maybe SAS Global Forum 2012 will see the fruition of all the developments I've listed above. I sure hope so, it's very exciting.

[See all of my posts regarding SAS Global Forum]