To maintain a productive workforce, businesses need to be able to put information in front of users at every level, from executives to front-line managers. Mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablets can provide analytics and business intelligence (BI), but so far this market niche has been dominated by publishing dashboards and reports that conform to the limits of mobile platforms. Analytics and BI software developers usually opt to publish charts and tables to Web pages on a smartphone or tablet. However, the usability of mobile-based Web browsers leaves a lot to be desired, which is particularly unfortunate in light of our recent benchmark research in business analytics, which found that usability was the number one consideration in 57 percent of organizations, while 89 percent said mobile applications need to be simpler to understand and use. A company called MeLLmo appears poised to capitalize on the demand for accessible mobile BI information.
Two years ago MeLLmo introduced a free application called Roambi for Apple’s iOS platforms. Roambi consumes the output of BI reports and dashboards from players such as IBM Cognos, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP BusinessObjects, SAS, Microsoft Excel, Salesforce CRM and others by integrating their data and reports into information you can visualize and interact with on your iPhone or iPad. Being an independent provider of mobile-based BI software gives MeLLmo or more often known as Roambi the ability to demonstrate interoperability across many reports and applications, meeting the needs of organizations that have more than a couple of BI tools in their portfolio.
Roambi provides a unique interactive and graphical interface that stands out from other BI tools focused on the Apple platform and the software has caught the attention of large corporations that are looking for something easy they can use to adapt their current reports. Hundreds of Global 2000 customers have embraced the technology. For instance, on the Apple website you can find a business profile of Dow Corning showing how its CEO and CFO have been using Roambi, along with one on Novartis who also are major customers of applications from SAP. That’s a pretty impressive feat for a young company in this market, but Roambi founders have a strong track record – they were the makers of Infommersion Xcelsius technology, which Business Objects purchased to advance Web-based interactivity in its BI suite.
MeLLmo knows that to continue to differentiate will require innovation in the user experience and use of analytics on mobile technologies. To foster that innovation, the company looked not ahead at some esoteric interface, but back to a traditional form of information used by millions of business professionals and consumers every day: the newspaper, and electronic versions thereof. The newspaper has been the standard information consumption paradigm for a couple of hundred years, but using this metaphor has eluded the BI industry. The traditional BI approach has focused on providing business users methods to page through reports of data with little descriptive text or view dashboards of pie charts and tables that developers created assuming users would understand what to do by drilling or paging through data.
This simply will not fly in today’s fast-changing mobile world. Faced with unintuitive interfaces, many organizations have had to resort to hiring people to build custom business briefing books by copying and pasting charts into Microsoft Word or PowerPoint and creating custom views with explanatory text. Most are then published to Adobe Acrobat for print and electronic distribution. These silos of information are useful but resource-intensive to create, and they don’t provide business users the ability to interact with the information or easily find the supporting analytics that represent their key performance indicators.
By contrast, MeLLmo decided it could adapt a proven information model using mobile technologies like the tablet. At SAP SAPPHIRE NOW the company announced a product called Roambi Flow that builds on Roambi’s high-quality mobile business analytics. The software provides the ability to generate what I call information applications through its publisher and provides an electronic newspaper view on the iPad in a digital magazine it calls Roambi Book or in the interactive Roambi Present format. Like Flipboard for reading information from publishers on social media on the Internet, Roambi Flow is simple to use and interact with. It also allows publishers to select page layout and design and place text, video and analytics from Roambi along with feeds from the Internet in a single application. Roambi Flow takes the rich information applications (RIAs) for regular Web deployment that evolved over the last couple of years to the next level on the tablet like Apple iPad, which is rapidly becoming the common technology for business executives and management.
I hope to see Roambi Flow advance further automation in the generation of the text around Roambi analytics, making it even easier to have an information-ready application for deployment. I also expect to see further integration with collaboration technologies to facilitate discussion and dialogue with others in the organization. This demand for collaboration on information was very important and important to 82 percent of organizations and providing information ready applications on mobile devices was found to be very important and important to 51 percent of organizations in our information applications benchmark.
Roambi Flow is already in use by many Roambi customers and will be released for the general market in June. The appearance of this application creates an opportunity for businesses to rethink mobile BI technologies and simplify the use of business analytics which our benchmark research to be important to over 89 percent of organizations. Having mobile-based applications and information is critical to ensure your investments are properly used. Not everyone can figure out how to drill down on charts and tables and figure out what is good, bad or indifferent. Businesses need to provide users with information that they can assimilate easily and then act upon.
On a historical perspective this approach of using a newspaper style presentation of business analytics was delivered into the consumer packaged goods industry and what was referred to as automating the news and information finding for marketing professionals. It was called Coverstory back in 1990 and was documented in a working paper by John Schmitz and John D. Little at Alfred P. Sloan School of Management who were early pioneers in the use of analytics and expert systems for business. It was designed for Ocean Spray and was commercially available by Information Resources Inc. who is now known as SymphonyIRI Group. The application was designed before the Internet and HTML/URL standards were developed but provided actionable hyperlinks on words within sentences. This text and sentence driven method enabled analytics to be changed by a business user who could dynamically interact with analytics through its actual representation or story. It unfortunately was left behind to the lack of maturity in the industry and readily available computers for business professionals to use and demand a newspaper based presentation of its business analytics. It got left behind by the mid 1990’s but the precedent was set over 20 years ago.
Recently, BI software developers have begun to embrace the native experience and technology for mobile platforms such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. These mobile operating systems have become the new leaders in the consumer and enterprise markets, surpassing offerings from HP, Microsoft and RIM. I have written about how this migration to mobile technologies has led a new wave of innovation in the new world of mobile business.
Current BI providers that support the Apple platform are looking for a low-cost, lowest-common-denominator approach to supporting the diversity of mobile platforms, and thereby increase profits. It’s a little early to make such a risky move, since Apple’s market share is based on its brand value and simplicity, which are not yet a commodity or even matched by other platform providers. Many BI providers say they are going to support the native experience of each platform but have yet to provide a document stating what they will keep or lose in their changes. By contrast, MeLLmo is investing in and deepening its work with the Apple platform to ensure it can further differentiate its offering.
MeLLmo is not alone in offering native apps for Apple mobile technology. In the BI software market in the last year a small group of providers (Actuate, MicroStrategy, QlikView and SAP) has built native tools for Apple iOS that can access predefined reports and views of business intelligence tools. But MeLLmo has leapfrogged the others by providing iPad software for accessing and publishing information with analytics that feels natural for anyone who reads. It is bringing the power of business analytics to a new generation of tools that will change how business people interact with and expect information to be provided on tablets.
Our business intelligence benchmark research finds that 46 percent of organizations plan or hope to deploy mobile technologies, and that provides a great opportunity for MeLLmo to grow. The focus on and investment in Apple is now paying off as the iPad rapidly becomes a platform for business that Apple is investing in too. MeLLmo’s use of a newspaper-style interface could be an inflection point for a shift in the mobile BI market. If Roambi Flow evolves it can become the popular interactive Flipboard of business analytics. The ability to provide information to business that can be assembled and deployed without custom coding helps reduce the cycle time for getting access to information and can offer businesses more routine daily and weekly accountability for their activities and results.
Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer