As someone who appreciates data, I was eager to take a spin with Roambi's data visualization application for the iPad (fortunately, a colleague of mine is an early technology adopter, and got his on day one). The app is without question a very "pretty" interface to view your data with. The Roambi app has been available for the iPhone for about a year now — what I found most appealing was the improved "usability" on the iPad with its 9" touch screen. Don't get me wrong, Roambi (and others) have done a great job utilizing the limited screen real estate on Smartphones (Roambi is only available for Apple devices), but the allure of the iPad's screen and portability has certainly made others consider the platform. Indeed, QlikView (another data visualization company) announced their product for the iPad this past Monday (as did Roambi) to coincide with the iPad buzz. The robust analytic capabilities and functionality this class of applications is providing is not new — more robust functionality has been available on desktops for years as bona fide Business Intelligence (BI) tools. What's potentially a game changer here is portability.
Sales and Field Force Automation, CRM, now BI
BI has been an actively percolating segment of the enterprise application landscape, as evidenced by the acquisition activity that began in 2007 (SAP acquired Business Objects, Oracle acquired Hyperion, and IBM acquired Cognos); and more recently, IBM's acquisition of analytics software supplier SPSS last July. If implemented/integrated successfully, a BI solution can empower manufacturers, retailers, suppliers, and distributors up and down the supply chain with the ability to make effective and informed decisions more easily, by providing the ability to understand the ever increasing amounts of data being collected by their operational systems (a big if, as cultural and internal challenges have been, and continue to be major stumbling blocks to further BI adoption in the enterprise — not to mention the significant initial costs). The allure of BI is pretty straightforward: it can provide insights into business questions, metrics to make business process enhancements, increase customer satisfaction, and most importantly, the ability to capitalize on sales opportunities while reducing associated costs. In short, BI can provide a company with a significant competitive advantage.
According to research we recently conducted, 33% of enterprises with smartphone deployments are either currently supporting mobile BI/CI, or are planning to support mobile BI/CI in the next 12 months.
KPIs in real time, and in your pocket
Pair the ability to access your corporate data (whether it resides in the home office or in the cloud) in real time with the visualization capabilities being developed, and the idea of "the mobile dashboard" becomes closer to reality. In my view, it isn't fair to call any of the functionality a "mobile dashboard"; however, that is not to say that the business value being made available with these applications isn't significant. Almost every user of BI applications I've crossed paths with (whether they use budgeting/planning/forecasting, dashboard/scorecards, reporting tools, or all of these), can't imagine not having access to the powerful analytical tools that the products offer— the bottom line, users have become "data driven", and rely on their data more than ever. Companies who have developed custom KPIs (traditionally, metrics that report on the status of an operation or step in a process at a particular point in time) aren't necessarily getting the potential value available from their BI investments— the retrospective element to these types of metrics don't necessarily provide the early warning/alert capabilities some users may require. For example, supply chain executives at large retailers probably want metrics around boxes per hours, sales per box, and trips per order. Distribution center executive/managers are interested in metrics like order picking accuracy, on-time shipments, and order fill rates — these KPIs can be accessed on the go, and in real-time as this product class matures.
The Big Three - Already Here
IBM/Cognos, SAP/BusinessObjects, and Oracle have had BI applications available on Smartphone platforms for some time now (since 2008) — each with a somewhat unique strategy, which at a high level involve integration with "complementary" products (IBM's "Information On Demand" for instance tightens integration between Cognos with Lotus Notes). The new entrants to the market (Roambi, Transpara, QlikView, and others) are already influencing the market, and most importantly, have notable customer wins, and have developed partner/reseller channels. What I'm thinking about is where do we go from here? Is Apple getting serious about the enterprise? It seems so — the security enhancements contained in Apple's OS4, the developer community seems to be on board (regardless of the ongoing "flash fight"), an "Enterprise Developer Program" is in place which allows companies with >500 employees to develop and deploy iPhone/iPad applications without going through the app store— all of this points to a more meaningful enterprise focus, something we'll be keeping an eye on.
Channel is Crucial
Large enterprise application vendors are certainly driving the mobilization of enterprise applications, and have brought the "sweet spots" of the broad mix of enterprise application to the smartphone market — to their credit, they are listening to their channel partners (OEMs, integrators, and consultants) who effectively act as their ”eyes and ears” to market demands. The market for these products is very limited in my view in terms of licenses — yet, the potential for profit is real. For instance, Roambi's enterprise offering starts at just under $40K, a sizable investment, but enterprises won't bat an eye if their executives start asking for this type of functionality.
What do you think? Will this class of mobile apps help drive the iPhone/iPad adoption in the enterprise?
We'd love to hear your thoughts.