Friday, May 06, 2011

Developing and provisioning Mobile Business Intelligence using Analyzer

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Mobile business intelligence is a very loosely-defined term, but without a doubt it’s a much-desired feature for almost any kind of reporting audience. With the advent of more and more smart devices, access to the web is not limited to desktops and laptops anymore. You would find devices like smartphones, tablet PCs, IPhones, IPads or at least GPRS-enabled cellphones with almost every second or third user who regularly uses Internet or IT-enabled systems. Generally, specialized accelerators are used to modulate your regular reports to suit the navigation and display capabilities of a smart device. But the consideration linked with such accelerators is that you need separate accelerators for separate devices as these accelerators are mostly device-specific and add an additional processing interface to deliver your reports on the target devices. If your reporting model changes, your accelerator might also be subject to change. Ideally the reporting solution should have built-in intelligent capabilities to make the reports suited to the device on which it is being viewed. Maintaining multiple definitions of the same report for different individuals or groups of devices makes the reporting solution very hard to develop as well as maintain.

How can Analyzer Mobile BI address mobile BI reporting challenges and requirements?

1) New report development and distribution paradigm for Mobile BI: In my experience, traditionally reports are authored on development systems and then hosted on collaboration platforms so they are accessible to a wide range of users. Accelerators are introduced on the top of this collaboration platform to modulate these reports to suit the target devices to facilitate mobile BI. Mostly these accelerators are thick-client applications on the device itself or specialized add-ons on the collaboration platform to mutate the report output.

Due to the obvious complexity, reports are never authored on smart devices. Analyzer is a zero-footprint solution, using a browser-based interface, and Strategy Companion has continued that theme with their approach to Mobile BI, making that also a zero-footprint solution on the devices in the picture shown below, for both smartphones and tablets of the Apple, BlackBerry, and Android varieties. So with Analyzer, you first create your reports and dashboards using the zero-footprint browser front-end using your desktop or laptop.The only requirement to make the reports mobile is to then mark the reports as available for mobile access, and the rest is taken care of by Analyzer.

2) Latest web standard adoption: Analyzer Mobile uses HTML5 which is the latest standard of HTML. Obviously the first question that would pop up in any curious mind is how does this change anything? HTML5 is a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard and the same is expected to be available with improvements for multimedia. This helps to bring a reasonable UI to display reports when they are rendered on smart devices.

Additionally, when any product uses a globally accepted standard instead of some proprietary technology, the benefit is that you open partnering possibilities with other partner products, due to the implicit compliance being brought to the table. For an easier way to understand this is, consider ODBC as an example. When ODBC was not in existence, different applications were dependent on using specialized drivers and approaches to connect to each database and this made the application more DB-specific. ODBC became a standard, and then applications using ODBC became more scalable as they could connect to any DB as long as it was ODBC-compliant.

3) Intelligent Interactivity: Most accelerators modulate reports to fit within the screen size and navigation mechanism of the smart device. But these reports are static web pages and have no built-in intelligent navigation mechanism. BI is all about problem decomposition and data analysis, and the top level report is almost always the starting point.

Analysts drill down, compare, slice and dice the data to extract intelligence out of the report. So an intelligent and convenient mechanism to do this becomes a prime necessity of the report. Having the same built-in to the report authoring platform is a huge advantage as the developer needs not to program the same for different devices, making report definitions free from device navigation logic. Below is a screenshot of a report viewed in a smart device where such navigation controls are displayed.

How can developers test these reports on different devices?

Emulators are one thing that developers should look for, to test these reports on different mobile devices. Check out this link which demonstrates how you can test applications on mobile devices using emulators. A demo site is already available for users to evaluate these reports from different kinds of smart devices and the same can be accessed from here. You would be requiredto provide authentication credentials to access the same: Username/Password – analyzer/mobile. I recommend testing these reports from the supported smart device emulators and check out how impressive is the mobile BI reporting experience offered by Analyzer.

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