Friday 1 April 2011

NOTE: Mobile BI

I dropped and broke my beloved HTC HD2 Windows Mobile smartphone just before Christmas. I loved its large 4.3" screen and its neat HTC Sense interface over the top of clunky Windows Mobile V6.5. I've replaced it with an LG Optimus One (P500). Why should this interest the SAS world? I'll tell you...

My sad telephonic experience has given me the opportunity to get some insight into a topic that I'm expecting to be hot at this year's SAS Global Forum. I'm talking about Mobile Business Intelligence. It sounds geeky but I'm convinced there's real business value and it'll be a hot topic in 2011.

I enjoyed the large screen on the HTC. I found it big enough to use the on-screen keyboard and to type emails without great inconvenience. It allowed me to view web sites perfectly adequately too. But it lacked support from developers and I was constantly frustrated by the launch of new apps for Apple's iOS and Google's Android, but not for Microsoft's Windows Mobile. So, when it broke I thought I'd take the plunge into the world of Android. Hence my purchase of the LG Optimus One.

I'm very pleased with the LG, and I love the availability and variety of apps (including TripIt to help me plan my trip to SAS Global Forum), but I do find the smaller 3.2" screen to be a frustration. I no longer find it so comfortable to write emails and browse the web.

As a newbie to the Android world, I've been keen to follow the developments of the Android tablets that have appeared over the last few months (first the Samsung, then the Motorola, and now everybody's jumping on the bandwagon). Given my recent experiences and frustrations, I can see how an Android tablet could be just what I need to keep in touch while I'm travelling.

I've never been a fan of Apple's expensive and locked-in approach to their products (though I do fully appreciate the gorgeous aesthetics of them). Hence I haven't given the iPad much attention. But I now see how the iPad and its cheaper, more-open Android cousins offer the mobile business person a fantastic tool for doing their job. Whether it's keeping in touch with colleagues and customers, having instant access to operational details like stock availability and product pricing, or being able to view strategic company information when you want and where you want, these tablets offer a convenience that conventional laptops and netbooks fail to deliver.

A lot of business intelligence (BI) vendors have released mobile products in order to meet the demand, firstly for the iPad but more recently for Android (and doubtless BlackBerry's upcoming PlayBook tablet will soon be supported too). BI vendors must provide their customers with the ability to design once and render anywhere; to support BI anywhere (desktop, browser, tablet, smartphone) and in any interface (dashboard, visual exploration, query, or Office). Leading industry analyst Howard Dresner recently published a study on the mobile BI market. Information Builders came out among the top contenders and chose to publish the study in full. Dresner concluded that "within two years a significant percentage of users will consume BI content exclusively on mobile devices".

SAS's recently signed partnership with MeLLmo Inc, creator of Roambi, one of the leading business apps for interactive mobile analytics, gives it the ability to deliver mobile SAS BI - albeit only for Apple iOS products at the moment. As I said earlier in this article, I expect to hear a lot about this partnership, and to see plenty of demos of what it can deliver, at SAS Global Forum. I'll be keen to not only look at the interface but to also understand the infrastructure that is required to allow people to work and move around transparently between office, mobile, online and offline modes.

However, I'll make one final point. Mobile BI is big and getting bigger, but there are plenty of other key developments in the industry that SAS must follow to retain their eminent position. Cloud-based delivery of services, and in-memory analytics are just two that I also hope to hear more about at SAS Global Forum.

Time to pack and find my passport...