Mobile Business Intelligence - Part 2
In the first part of this blog, we discussed key elements of Mobile BI, options for delivering BI content on mobile devices and business scenarios best suited for mobile usage. Now let's talk about specifics from SAP in this area. I will cover various technology options from SAP, their use cases, device support and some future enhancements from SAP.
Mobile BI is not new at SAP. Business Warehouse 3.0 offered what was known as BEx Mobile Intelligence. It facilitated rendering BEx Web Reports, developed using Web Application Designer (WAD), on PDA's and WAP-enabled phones. It had device recognition and rendering capability which meant that you could create one single template and use it on multiple devices.
The product was meant for early generation PDA's and WAP phones, and did not really come up to newer feature-rich and highly capable "Smart Phones". BEx Mobile Intelligence has not seen any new upgrades or enhancements in a long time. One of the reasons could be SAP's acquisition of BusinessObjects (BO) and its strategic decision to make BO as the primary Business Intelligence offering. If you are looking to start your Mobile Business Intelligence now, you should not consider BEx Mobile Intelligence as a strategic tool (it could be used a quick-win tactical solution though).
So what are the Mobility options on BusinessObjects toolset? At a high-level there are two; BO Mobile and BO Explorer Mobile. Both these serve different purposes. BO Mobile is meant to deliver targeted BI content to users based on their roles, whereas BO Explorer Mobile allows users to use search and exploration feature of Business Explorer via mobile devices. In other words, BO Mobile allows users to access predefined purpose-built BI applications from their mobile devices and BO Explorer provides them Google-like search feature to analyze data using auto-generated data visualizations on mobile.
BO Mobile enables accessing Web Intelligence (WebI) and Crystal reports content on Mobile through a device-specific client application (or "app"). It allows users to connect to BusinessObjects servers in the corporate network through mobile and render the reports that are already published on the server for that user/role. Although the reports have to be predefined, neither the data is not static nor are the reports "broadcast" to users. BO Mobile allows users to access the content on-demand (or "pull") and interact with it. Some of the key features it provides are document refresh, changing filter values (prompts), drill-downs, navigation to other hyperlinks defined on the report, invoking device-specific actions such as phone call, SMS text or Email, and sending document link via email, etc. It also allows users to receive alerts when a document is refreshed on the server or an exception condition is met. Users can also download report on the local device and access offline.
BO Mobile is supported on Windows Mobile, Nokia and BlackBerry Smart Phones. In June this year, SAP also released an app that allows accessing WebI reports on iPad. For iPad support though, you need BO 4.0 SP2 or BO XI 3.1 SP4 on the server side. Also, currently iPad only renders WebI reports (no Crystal) and some features like drilldown are not supported. But I must say that the visualizations on iPad look gorgeous!
Now let's talk about BO Explorer Mobile. This product extends the core search-and-exploration capability of BO Explorer to mobile devices. As we discussed earlier, the use case is completely different from BO Mobile. Here the objective is not to render pre-defined BI content, but to allow users to perform ad-hoc analysis. Visualizations are automatically generated by the system, similar to BO Explorer on desktop. However some backend work in terms of defining InfoSpaces etc. is still needed. You would need BO Explorer installed and configured on top of your BusinessObjects environment, and for a superior performance an accelerated (in-memory) version is recommended.
Currently the BO Explorer Mobile is available for iPad and iPhone as a downloadable app from Apple AppStore.
Both the above products do not address one key ask of many organizations and users - Xcelsius Dashboards. So how does one access Dashboards on the mobile? Well, there is one option. As most of you would know, Xcelsius Dashboards are rendered using Adobe Flash running in device browsers. So, technically, any device that can run Adobe Flash can render Xcelsius Dashboards. Users using Android devices (Smart Phones or tablets) or BlackBerry PlayBook can simply access Xcelsius Dashboards through their device browsers. As discussed in the first part, this is an example of RIA rendering. Only condition is that your BO Enterprise server should be accessible via Internet/VPN and device should support Flash. However as we all know, within tablet space, iPad is the big elephant, and since iOS devices do not support Adobe Flash, currently iPad and iPhone cannot run Xcelsius Dashboards. L
So as you might agree, SAP provides quite a lot of options and features to mobile enable your Business Intelligence. But I think there are some key elements still missing -
1. BO Mobile support on iPhone (currently only iPad is supported)
2. Drilldown functionality on iPad/iPhone
3. Ability for users to customize charts/reports and save views
4. BO Mobile and BO Explorer Mobile support for Android devices
5. Xcelsius on iPad/iPhone
As per SAP, many of them would get addressed in the newer releases that are in "pipeline". (Disclaimer: product directions are subject to change)
Device support - Support for iPhone, Android devices and BlackBerry Playbook
Feature enhancements - Drilldown on iPad/iPhone
Explorer Augmented - Will integrate location awareness, device camera and map visualization in BO Explorer Mobile
Exploration Views - An extension on BO Explorer Mobile allowing users to customize and share different visualizations.
Unified Mobility Platform - An integrated platform for Business Process Mobility and BI Mobility. Currently both exist as independent product stacks (Sybase and BO Mobile) and technologies.
Well, that concludes this 2-part blog. In Part-1, we discussed generic aspects of Mobile BI, and in this part technology options from SAP. Hope you found them useful. Do write-in your comments/views/suggestions...