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The stakes have never been higher for suppliers of interactive business intelligence. Our benchmark research on business analytics finds that businesses overwhelmingly (89% of participants) want simpler analytics and metrics, and usability (57%) and functionality (47%) are the two most important evaluation criteria according to our Value Index vendor and product assessment methodology. In addition our business analytics research, 38 percent said that accessing analytics and metrics via mobile technology is important or very important.

I have been evaluating business intelligence tools that run on smartphones and tablets for many years to determine how well vendors are meeting the needs of business. In the case of Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile on the Apple iPad and iPhone, I was not overwhelmed by the implementation. In fact, I found significant challenges in configuration, usability and functionality that make the software less effective than it should be. Oracle BI on Apple mobile technologies compares poorly with other products in the delivery of comprehensive and usable BI on mobile technologies, including those my colleague and I already have assessed from ActuateIBMInformation BuildersMicroStrategyQlikviewRoambi and Yellowfin. Let me tell you about my experience.

I attempted to assess Oracle BI on the iPhone and iPad last year, but the company did not have a freely available demonstration available from the Apple App Store. I decided to try again when I saw a tweet that announced free access to the latest Oracle BI on mobile platforms. From the application information on the download page I discovered that the software was published last May, so it isn’t brand-new. While you can download the software, you cannot access the instructions to actual use it; I had to find separate instructions posted by Oracle. The configuration requires a two-pass setup where you must register with Oracle to get user authentication and access to database-level configuration for the demonstration database. I got to the instructions, but after sending a follow-up tweet that I could not get the application to work, I got a reply from Oracle sending me the URL of a specific instruction sheet. Once I reviewed the instructions and got through the detailed configuration screens, I was able to set up Oracle BI on my iPad and iPhone.

This was definitely not a simple process, especially compared to that of most other BI vendors, who simply provide an integrated demonstration database for use when you download the application, eliminating configuration. This approach has been the standard set by hundreds if not thousands of demo applications available over the last several years, and it makes sense since software vendors want people to see that accessing their mobile technology is simple and the user experience is enjoyable. Somebody at Oracle might want to try out its competitors’ applications to see how easily this can work. 

Oracle provides one example demonstration called Brand Analysis that has multiple dashboards. Using this, I found that the application fails to take advantage of standard iOS features. For instance, it is not doing initial autosizing to fit the screen or when you zoom into an analytic view, and standard hand gestures that you would typically use on an Apple device are not available. I expect any business intelligence application to support basic interactive user needs, from drill, pivot and page to sort, filter and rank selections. Oracle BI does some of these, but it’s not intuitive about when you can drill down or if you are just zooming into a chart or table, and if you want to pivot, it’s not clear whether that is possible. Paging through data is simple enough, but any level of sort, filter and ranking is impossible unless you go into the full product and build the output, which then can be accessed by the mobile tool. You should be able to easily save views, make notations and share your findings, but you can’t, except for emailing the URL you are looking at to someone else.

I do like elements of the geographic views on the data, but after any interactions the application is slow to respond and refresh, which is surprising, since most metrics and analytics could have been pre-calculated to make the demonstration fast and easy. Our business analytics research finds that search and navigation are the top two requested needs of business users, but Oracle has failed to support these operations as simply as it could.

To be sure I did not miss anything, I went back and watched a promotional video and did additional research on the Oracle website. I even Googled around to see if other functionality that does not come naturally is included in the product. I did find some specific interactions for drilling down and prompting action which I worked through. However, it is not clear that the Oracle developers have spent much time personally using Apple devices, or they would see how difficult their app is to use and conclude that it is not positioned to compete against others in the market. If there is any advantage to using Oracle BI on Apple mobile devices, compared to other vendors’ software, it is not clear to me since you want it to be easy and simple to use.

If Oracle wants to get significant adoption and get on the short list of vendors who provide valuable analytics and business intelligence on mobile technologies, it had better get a better approach real fast. It must also determine how to deliver incremental updates every quarter; treating mobile platforms like Apple’s with the pace of traditional enterprise software releases and updates every year or so will fail. If you are an Oracle customer, you will have to upgrade to its 11.1.1.5 release as it does not support previous releases, and if you are not a customer, then you will have to determine if you have resources to install and configure in IT. I would have hoped that it would offer a version in a cloud computing method to quick start customers, but could not find that this was available anywhere. Oracle competitors have a significant number of public customer references, and could not find any significant ones for Oracle who needs to take steps to energize its mobile BI efforts to stay relevant.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer


The demand for access to business information and applications through mobile technologies such as the Apple iPhone and iPad, devices running Google Android or using RIM Blackberry is surging as consumer preferences and behavior spill over into the business workforce. The massive growth of adoption of these technologies around the world as consumers seek instant access to information has many business managers wondering how to benefit from the trend. The drive for mobility is part of the 2010 business technology agenda (See: “Using Innovative and Disruptive Technology in 2010”) as a source of innovation inside the enterprise and in interactions with consumers and customers. Of course in a business rather than personal context, more types and complexity of information are needed, ranging from access to documents and presentations, to status on initiatives and processes, for specific application needs to performance in what is known as business intelligence.

Against this background it is clear that just having mobile access to e-mail is insufficient for increasing productivity and producing better-informed employees at any level of responsibility. The challenge for IT departments is to progress beyond insisting on a single device as the corporate standard or limiting personal devices to e-mail access. It’s obvious that individuals are using dual devices, keeping their favorite device in one pocket and the company tool in the other. The result is a battle for the attention of business users to help them focus on work-related tasks; to win it, companies will have to let employees use their device of choice.

But the diversity of technologies and providers poses great challenges for the enterprise in providing secure access that works for varying types of devices. At the same time the range of applications available for the workforce has expanded as the technology to assemble and deploy applications has become simpler and business tools like business intelligence are easier to manage and use. Our recent benchmark research on information applications found advances in organizations’ support for more mobile device usage with these applications. The most commonly cited was the RIM BlackBerry (important to 65% of participants), followed by the Apple iPhone (37%), Microsoft Windows Mobile (33%) and devices using the Google Android operating system (20%). This is a significant shift in the balance of mobile device platforms; the market that used to be dominated by RIM and Microsoft is opening up to others as the major telecommunications service providers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are involved in promoting them and the broader usage plans for which they make considerable profit. Our research shows that RIM BlackBerry is still most important in the finance, insurance and real estate category (used by 44%) while other industries, coming to mobility later, are more diverse in their choices. Accessing applications and information via a mobile device is not yet a top end-user capability for information applications, but it is a very important one in almost one-fifth of organizations; on the downside, one-fourth of participants said the technology for providing such access is inadequate.

Integrating analytics and metrics to meet the information needs of business and the workforce is another pertinent issue found not just as part of information applications but also in BI. Our recent benchmark research on business intelligence (BI) and performance management found that executives most often demand access to their business metrics while it is not a priority for IT. This is a critical finding that counters the assertions of many analysts, press and consultants that mobile BI is not important; those commentators solely focus on the IT organizations without understanding the business need for simpler access to process and performance metrics. These are important to organizations that are already mobile like sales and field service and are becoming so to the growing virtualized workforce that works from home or travels from location to location in operations, supply chain and management. According to our BI research, access to data through mobile devices is important in more than one-fourth of organizations.

It also finds that while only 13 percent of organizations have deployed some type of mobile-based business intelligence, 30 percent are in the process of deploying or plan to deploy, and another 27 percent are hoping to deploy in the near future – that’s a total of 70 percent seriously interested in mobile BI. In practical terms, however, the technology from BI vendors needs to improve; almost one-fourth of participants in our research said that the usability of existing technologies is inadequate. On the positive side, the vendors in the market seem to have realized that just accessing Web pages on a mobile device will not be sufficient. I have seen this year, for example, a strong movement in native support for the iPhone and iPad from vendors that I have written about including ActuateBusinessObjects by SAPMicroStrategy and QlikView. There surely will be more to come in the near future.

Organizations that embrace mobility for business purposes likely will become not just more efficient but places where more people want to work. This could be an edge for employers in the increasing competitive challenges of recruiting and retaining talent in the coming decade. The opportunity to apply business intelligence and analytics in mobilely accessible applications is one of the fastest-growing aspects of the market. I have been spending significant time assessing mobility within the context of business intelligence and information applications, as the best way to know its relevance is to compare it to existing approaches. Doing research on mobility divorced from what an organization has today and how it will transition will fail to help them move efficiently to the next level of business. The technology has become simpler for organizations to adopt, but now suppliers need to align their products to the business demand and not wait for IT to come around to the idea. The opportunity is clear as businesses look to the new generation of computing to help them improve productivity and results.

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research

Mark Smith – Twitter

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