Business Intelligence Goes Mobile Thanks To Better Browsers - InformationWeek
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11/7/2007
05:38 PM
Elena Malykhina
Elena Malykhina
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Business Intelligence Goes Mobile Thanks To Better Browsers

I've noticed a pattern of news announcements around mobile business intelligence tools that are just itching to get into the hands of smartphone users. Information Builders is the latest to release a BI tool this week that provides access to business data from any mobile device. And in case you were wondering, it can be used on the iPhone too.

I've noticed a pattern of news announcements around mobile business intelligence tools that are just itching to get into the hands of smartphone users. Information Builders is the latest to release a BI tool this week that provides access to business data from any mobile device. And in case you were wondering, it can be used on the iPhone too.This is not the first time Information Builders is attempting to mobilize BI, or other competing providers for that matter. MicroStrategy, Cognos, and Business Objects all offer similar tools. But I'll stick with Information Builders in this case.

Information Builders' WebFocus Active Reports software is designed in such a way that enables a person to interact with data on a smartphone the same way they would on a desktop. Examples of BI provided on smartphones include executive reports on key metrics, portable performance management scorecards, operations metrics monitoring, sales indicators, and account information.

The software has been available to smartphone users for a while, but back in July, the company rolled a version of Active Reports for iPhone users. Instead of providing a downloadable app (which we all know wouldn't work on the iPhone), Information Builders created an app that can be accessed through a Web browser. Even for devices other than the iPhone, the Active Reports app doesn't require custom software to be installed. Information Builders is betting on the mobile browser to deliver analytics and metrics.

The same goes for WebFocus Mobile Favorites, which Information Builders just rolled out on Wednesday. Content can be added or removed from the Mobile Favorites folder in Information Builders' standard BI dashboard. The company claims this process is no different from adding content to the favorites folder in a Web browser.

I'm always skeptical about Web browser-based apps since in most cases the browsing experience on mobile devices doesn't compare to that of a desktop. Information Builders and others claim that their BI tools can be accessed offline and have been optimized to serve up data fast, even on the slowest browsers. When it comes to network speeds, I don't even want to open that can of worms. Unless you're using 3G or a Wi-Fi hotspot, good luck trying to access anything quickly on a Web browser.

My other concern with mobile BI is the appearance of the actual reports. On a desktop browser, they tend to be visually rich with tables, graphics, and charts. On a mobile browser, that's not always the case. The good news is mobile browsers are becoming a lot more sophisticated. The reason BI works on the iPhone is because reports can be viewed vertically or horizontally, zoomed into, and basically viewed the way they were intended to.

Devices based on the Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile platforms can access and interact with Information Builders' Active Reports by running the Opera Mobile browser. Opera Mobile is provided by Opera Software, a maker of mobile Web technologies. It is in essence a full Web browser with many shortcuts and tricks that make navigating on a mobile device a lot easier.

I'm guessing these gradual improvements are the reason why BI providers are jumping on the opportunity to introduce mobile versions of their apps. It remains to be seen, however, if the demand is as big as the hype.

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