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Mobile BI going mainstream: the case of Cognos BI 10 Mobile

Mobile BI or having the ability to consume report and BI content on a mobile device is certainly not a new concept. It has been around for over a decade... Companies like Business Objects or Cognos introduced Business Objects Infoview Mobile or Cognos Noticecast as far back as 2000. Back then, various PDA’s like the Compaq Ipaq, Palm Pilot or Blackberry were used to leverage synchronized reports or SMS alerts. Mobile BI however remained largely a hype due to technological constraints and high cost.

Over time, technology behind mobile computing has matured but far more important was the shift in paradigm from wire to wireless computing. Wireless e-mail proved to be the ground breaking application that enabled the break-through of mobile devices for the masses.

Apple’s contribution

The world of mobile computing really changed with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. The first day, over 300 000 iPads were sold. This figure climbed to over 40 million in 2011. The market penetration of the iPhone is even larger. Over 385 million new smartphones have shipped in 2011 alone. This mass adoption offers a lot of opportunities for the acceptance of Mobile BI. Especially the benefits of the larger screen on tablets are a real potential advantage for BI and analytic applications. Therefore market analysts are expecting a robust growth in the use of mobile platforms for BI.

Mobile BI does not differ much from traditional BI: both deliver data in a highly visual way. Whilst, like typically is the case, original innovation has been done by pure play new Mobile BI entrants like RoamBI, Mobile BI can really be seen as an add-on to traditional BI. Meanwhile all leading vendors have completely integrated their mobile solutions into their existing architecture lowering the overall cost of ownership. Mobile users now can leverage the same report content and server infrastructure as traditional clients. Mobile BI offers interactivity; the ability to comment and share reports to enable critical business decisions anywhere, at any time.

Drivers

Why should we use Mobile BI? There are many applications where this technology can offer a competitive advantage. The classic examples are support or sales people and senior management, who are constantly travelling. Mobile BI offers them an end-to-end view on the data for the next client visit or business meeting. Data can be reviewed and shared at the client site or when travelling in a user friendly way.

Another application could be using the location awareness built into mobile reports. By using the built-in GPS system, reports are made aware of the user’s exact location. An application built for a police department would allow officers to keep track of ongoing calls, or show a map with known offenders in the area. A utilities company could use Mobile BI to show a technician a map of non-operational connections in the area. A store manager could track inventory or sales while walking through the store. Managers that are often in conferences or travelling can easily monitor figures with a few touches on the screen.

Users can access data anywhere no matter if they are at their desk or in an airplane, especially as most solutions also allow consultation offline after new information has been synced. Because data is much more readily available, better and faster decisions can be made.

Howard Dresner states that Mobile BI will become the main delivery mechanism for business analytics. According to Gartner 33% of BI functionality will be consumed through mobile devices by 2013. Expectations are that tablets will take the lead in deployments as their larger screen resolution offers a better visual experience than smartphones.

App or browser?

There are two approaches when it comes to Mobile BI: running a native application or using web browser-based access. A native application is custom code, specifically written towards a specific platform. The advantages are clear: optimized code for a specific mobile device, ensuring optimal performance and the best possible visual user experience. Apps also allow for off-line access, enabling users to consume cached reports when not connected to the Internet.

Web browser based access means that a normal browser is used to connect to a portal specifically set up for Mobile BI. The differences between a mobile portal site and classic BI portal site are clear. The mobile portal site will take into account the smaller display resolution and will offer additional functionalities for Mobile BI. The biggest advantage of using a web browser based approach is the portability between devices. Currently both approaches are being used as no clear standard has been defined yet.

Vendors

Of course all the classic vendors like IBM, SAP, Microstrategy and Information Builders have mobile solutions. There are however alternatives. Yellowfin is a relatively new player in the BI-market that offers traditional BI and data visualization but also a highly interactive Mobile BI solution. Specifically for Microsoft environments, Extended Solutions created PushBI. This mobile solution leverages existing data and pushes this to the mobile user. Both score quite high in the Mobile Business Intelligence study by Howard Dresner. A larger vendor that does very well in this study is Microstrategy. The Microstrategy Mobile platform offers very advanced interactivity and visualizations.

IBM Cognos

IBM Cognos introduced its first mobile application in 2006. Cognos 8 Go! Mobile used a combination of push – pull reports and supported Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Mobile. Currently, the market is dominated by Apple iPad, which has a market share of 75%. IBM Cognos recently released version 10.1.1 which provides a specific App to accommodate the iPad.

IBM Cognos offers a specific App for both the iPad and Blackberry. All other devices have web based browser access to the mobile platform. Support for the web based client is enabled for Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian, covering all operating systems in the mobile device market.

The app and web based client are very similar in appearance and functionality. Let us have a look at the web based client in this case running on an iPhone.

Web based browser access

After logging on to the mobile platform, a user will see a number of tabs:

  • Welcome: in this tab, a user can add his favorite report
  • Favorites: provides shortcuts to favorite reports
  • Recently run reports: shows a list of recently run reports
  • Get more: this will open the content store as you would see it in the normal BI environment
  • Search tab: enables searching through the Content Store

Figure 1: Log on to the mobile platform


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Figure 2: The welcome screen showing a favorite report

Figure 3: Recently run reports

Figure 4: Accessing the Cognos Content store
You can browse through folders by swiping and access reports by pointing. If the screen of the iPhone is rotated, the application will follow, allowing for a better view on larger reports. Zooming in and out is possible.

Using the web client, most of the content in Cognos Connection can be consumed as you would expect with the principle of Author Once, Consume Everywhere. Objects created with Report Studio, Query Studio, Analysis Studio, Business Insight (Advanced) and Metric Studio can be run and results can be reviewed. The web client will however not launch separate studios with full blown functionality. The results will be returned in HTML-format and retain interactivity. Drilling up and down and also drill through is supported for all objects. When a drill is performed, the filter details are shown above the crosstab.

Figure 5: An Analysis Studio result is returned as HTML but retains drill up and down functionality.

Figure 6: Filter details are shown when a drill up/down is performed.

When clicking the ‘i’, a popup appears allowing to save a report as a ‘Favorite’ or as ‘Welcome’. The refresh button will rerun the report.

Figure 7: A popup toolbar allowing to mark or rerun the report.

Prompts are handled very graciously. A user is prompted exactly like he would be in the normal BI environment. A report can be made location aware by reusing the GPS satellite coordinates available through the phone.

Figure 8: As with normal reports, the user is prompted.

Another nice feature is the ability to click on a chart and view the details of the chart slice. 

Figure 9: Clicking on a slice reveals the detailed values in a small popup.


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Reports can be accessed through the content store, but other delivery mechanisms are also available. Reports can be run and sent specifically to mobile devices. When they have been sent, the user will see a red number in the recently run reports. This number represents the number of reports that are available but have not yet been reviewed. The report itself will appear as scheduled. Events can also be used to trigger the execution and forwarding of a report to a mobile device. When running a report on a mobile device, 2 options are available. A mobile user can wait for the output, or the report will run in the background and the output will appear in the recently run reports list.

Figure 10: Reports marked as scheduled were pushed to the mobile user.

Figure 11: Reports can be sent to specific mobile recipients


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Business Insight dashboards are rendered correctly, but the built-in interactivity through the slider/filter widgets is disabled. Safari, the default browser used on the Apple platform does not support MHT-files, which are being used for Active Reports. Active reports are necessary for offline viewing and allow for much greater interactivity. They are only supported through the native application for iPad.

iPad

The native app can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple App store. After entering a server URL, user ID and password a connection is established.

Figure 12: Logging in is straightforward.


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Figure 13: The App provides an easy and intuitive interface.


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The App provides extra functionality compared to the web based browser access. The largest difference is the support for Active Reports. These reports can be stored locally on the device, for offline viewing and offer great interactivity with the user. By using tab pages, sliders, list of values … a real interactive dashboard can be used on the iPad.

Figure 14: This dashboard offers interactivity by using tab pages, buttons and a slider to view different segments of data.


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Using the finger-paint feature, parts of the reports can be marked and then emailed with further comments. When the iPad is lost or stolen, the app can be removed remotely. Lease key security allows administrators to set the lifespan of the BI-content, making it unavailable after a predefined amount of time.

Planning Mobile BI ?

Here are some recommendations when you are planning to deploy Mobile BI. As for every BI project executive sponsorship is a must. Obtaining that sponsorship is a lot easier when clearly defined business goals and objectives are available. Business executives really need to understand the potential Return On Investment Mobile BI can offer. According to The Datawarehouse Institute, the difficulty of identifying a hard Return On Investment currently remains the largest bottleneck in project funding.

Mobile BI might be reusing existing content, but is mainly focused on the visual aspect of BI. The visual and interactive aspect is of the utmost importance. Therefore dashboards should be presented graphically formatted with drill up/down or drill through functionality. The limitations on screen resolution while creating dashboards should be taken into account. In this regard an iPad offers a lot more flexibility then an iPhone. Optimizing query performance is also key in assuring that users are having a fluent experience. Bursting reports to mobile devices could help overcome this hurdle. Pay a great deal of attention to security. Mobile devices are regularly stolen or lost. Cognos Mobile offers excellent features to accommodate this need.

The future of Mobile BI looks bright. The overall user adaptation of mobile devices and the advent of tablet PC’s have established a solid foundation for a boost in deployment of Mobile BI platforms. Mobile BI offers accurate, reliable and secure information to a user group that historically seen had a lot less affinity with Business Intelligence than an average desktop user. With the last technological hurdles being taken, this flexible platform allows for better decision making and a maximum in productivity.