Organizations cannot appl(e)aud a vendor lock-in
Now that modern mobile devices (e.g. smartphones, table PCs) have made great strides in their rich user interfaces and people are accustomed to using them in daily life, they’re becoming ubiquitous in the workplace as well. Checking email and synching calendars to mobile devices are common tasks for business people, many of whom are hungry for richer business applications – like mobile BI apps that allow them to interact with their performance information anywhere, anytime. Mobile BI is on the top list of projects for decision support at organizations around the world, and managers are eagerly looking at solutions currently on the market and learning that they’re one of two breeds: native apps or Web apps. Which one is the future of mobile BI?
Native apps are applications that are device-specific – that is, they are platform and hardware dependent. They became necessary when Apple launched the iPhone and forced all developers to create applications specific to the device to be sold on its App Store. Since 2007, developers have created hundreds of thousands of native apps for iPhone that have been downloaded billions of times. But all of these apps need to run through the evaluation process of a single company for a single device category.
Although the iPhone has made some strides into the corporate world – managers do love these gadgets for their stylishness, ease of use, and the device-specific applications themselves – competition isn’t standing still. Many BI vendors have developed native apps to run on iPhones and iPads or have at least provided a front-end interpreter to handle BI presentation layers. But at what cost? Is it worth it for these vendors to put their focus on a single platform when there is an alternative? Does the small bit of increased functionality in a native app justify the decision to go that direction?
A recent Gartner report shows that Android will be the leading platform for mobile devices at the end of 2011 and that Microsoft, with their Nokia partnership in place, is expected to gain back a decent market share. Neither Google nor Microsoft are betting on a “walled garden” approach, but instead heavily promote Web apps.
So what makes Web apps different than native apps?
In my last post on this subject, I talked about the benefits of cloud computing, especially when it comes to deploying BI in the cloud. The advantages are numerous, but there are also drawbacks that need to be considered before responsibly moving forward. Here are some of the arguments we hear about from our customers and how business intelligence providers have already thought of ways to curb them:
Data security. Security is a concern for IT and business professionals alike. Since your business performance data is stored externally in a cloud model, data management and protection is in the hands of the provider – not your IT department. For regulated environments such as the pharmaceutical, healthcare and financial services industries however, data security is paramount and their information may never be stored off-site. However, it’s still possible to deploy your BI in the cloud even if your data needs to be stored on the premises. It simply involves storing your data on-site behind firewalls and running your queries and reports over the web in a browser. Your data never leaves the premises so you maintain your own data security, but you still benefit from less hardware costs and time saved from not having to install the BI software on every machine or mobile device. It’s a win-win. You can learn more about this particular style of deploying cloud BI in our webinar, A Roadmap for BI Cloud Computing, which is available as a recording here.
Data backup. Though it’s a cost-saving measure to dump your backup servers, having your backup and storage off-site can keep you up at night. If your company is dependent on the cloud provider’s backup and redundancy services to preserve data if any issues arise, you better hope you chose your vendor wisely :-). No seriously, the method we just touched on where data is actually stored on the premises is a compromise that can alleviate this issue.
“Cloud computing” is a term that’s thrown around a lot today, but it simply means accessing your data and applications without on-site infrastructure, i.e. in the cloud. Data processing, storage and backup, maintenance, administration and even troubleshooting are all taken care of by the service provider.
Some of us (like me) were skeptical when everything started being labeled as “cloud.” The thought of not having a trusted IT department maintain control of data and hardware was a little unsettling at first. But after considering the pros and cons of cloud computing (and also realizing that I use cloud services like Gmail and Salesforce.com every day without hesitation), the advantages became clear, even for business intelligence.
Implementing BI in the cloud is a dilemma for a lot of organizations we work with. They’re (rightly) concerned about data security, hardware failure, and anything that could take their reports offline, slow employees’ decision-making process, or expose valuable information to the wrong people. Those are all concerns that have been and continue to be addressed by cloud providers. Certainly data security and back-ups have become paramount to vendors offering cloud services. But as we hear less and less about massive cloud failures in the news and executives and IT managers get more comfortable with the cloud, we’ve seen a shift toward the cloud becoming acceptable for business intelligence deployments. Here’s why:
The cloud offers access to data, applications and other resources without the need for program installation. This equals major convenience when doing work on a portable device like a laptop, tablet PC or smartphone. Not only are your devices free from the clutter of numerous installs (which facilitates effective use of resources), but your company’s IT team isn’t bogged down with installing, reinstalling, and troubleshooting numerous devices for each employee. And since many of us work remotely occasionally, if not exclusively, a lightweight approach to accessing data is truly beneficial.
I returned from KScope, the Oracle Developer Tools User Group Conference, in Long Beach, CA late last week, along with my colleagues Dwight deVera & Pete Flagella. arcplan exhibited at the show – our first time there – and already can’t wait to do it again next year in San Antonio. We hoped to meet a number of Hyperion and Oracle Essbase users and found that at least 50% of the 1,000 attendees seemed to be up our alley. We had wonderful conversations with attendees who stopped by to see a brief demonstration of arcplan Enterprise and arcplan Mobile on top of Essbase and we exchanged thoughts on Smart Views. The attendees were a great group, along with the organizers who created a very well coordinated event with a positive and encouraging atmosphere. We overheard that this was the best attended KScope ever.
I personally attended a number of the educational sessions and found them to be extremely valuable. And as a vendor, it’s encouraging that the attendees don’t just think of the exhibit hall as a grab-and-go fest. Many people took time to converse with us and give us their feedback on our products, even testing out arcplan Mobile on an iPad before entering to win one for themselves.
I think everyone’s favorite thing about KScope this year was the Wednesday evening event on the Queen Mary. Food, open bar, dueling pianos, poker, and fireworks! How will they top it next year? I have no idea, but I’ll be there to find out.