BI Unplugged -- Enabling Unprecedented Information Access

Mobility promises to enable unprecedented access to information -- in a highly-interactive, visually compelling context, to boot.

Open source business intelligence (BI) specialist JasperSoft recently unveiled version 4.2, an update of its namesake BI platform, touting a mobility infusion -- in the form of both an iPhone-centric SDK and an iPad-optimized browser app -- that it says rivals that of any of its competitors.

It's the latest indication -- if any were needed -- that mobility's hot in the BI market.

"Things are just exploding from a device perspective, and certainly the iPad is doing quite well in gaining market share as the overall tablet leader," says Mike Boyarski, director of product marketing with JasperSoft. "Because of the dominance of the iPad, because a lot of IT organizations want to have both iPad and iPhone access to their data, corporate IT is certainly [becoming more interested] in investing in supporting mobile applications."

As Boyarski sees it, mobile BI promises to enable unprecedented access to, as well as interaction with, information -- and in a visually compelling context, to boot.

He's not alone.

In early September, for example, Sybase Inc., an SAP AG company, announced version 2.1 of its Unwired platform, touting a plan to develop a mobile app development community. Although Unwired is by no means confined to BI, Sybase officials describe mobility as a killer app for on-the-go analytics.

"We're seeing just a lot of interest on the analytics side. We have customers [who are] excited about the possibility of seeing the analytical data that is in an SAP system [rendered] on an iPad. They're excited about the ability to drill down [into] this information in front of a customer in a meeting, for example," says Dan Ortega, senior director of product marketing with Sybase.

"One of the things we're releasing is a Mobile Analytics kit that will enable the [practice] of deep drill-down [into data]. The problem right now is that a lot of analytic apps are really geared toward heavy information display, and this requires a kind of hard-wired connection on a specific screen. This is kind of the exact opposite of that."

A big issue with going mobile, at least from the perspective of would-be application developers, is heterogeneity. Apple Inc.'s iOS isn't the only mobile operating system out there; nor, for that matter, do the iOS-based iPad and iPhone comprise the totality of mobile devices.

The upshot, then, is that ISVs and enterprise application developers continue to wrestle with which platform or device to code for, even as a quasi-universal alternative -- coding platform-agnostic (or mostly-platform-agnostic) Web applications -- has gained in popularity.

According to a recent study from software development researcher Evans Data Corp., a majority of mobile developers are focusing on Web apps instead of native apps -- in spite of the dominance of the iPad or (in the small-form-factor mobile arena) the iOS or Android platforms. (

Both JasperSoft and SAP Sybase aim to split the difference.

The JasperSoft 4.2 release, for example, includes both an iPhone-centric SDK -- to help accelerate the development of native iPhone applications -- and an iPad-optimized browser application. SAP Sybase, on the other hand, promotes something it calls a "Hybrid Web Container" -- basically, a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach that permits programmers to code Web apps using at least some of the tools and methods with which they're most comfortable. Think of it as embedding a browser inside a native application, the idea being that a developer has only to code for the browser. The enveloping Hybrid Web Container translates generic Web application calls into device-specific APIs.

Organizations will opt for different approaches, suggests JasperSoft's Boyarski. In most cases, they'll probably mix and match. In some cases, native apps -- which take longer and cost more to build and support -- will be the only way to go. In others, Web apps will make most sense.

It's an application-by-application -- or business-process-by-business-process -- or user-class-by-user-class -- proposition.

"Mobile BI is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Organizations want the flexibility and the agility to deploy [mobile applications] rapidly. In some cases, that's going to [make for] a browser-based solution. In others, they're going to want a really good-looking app. That requires a native solution," he concludes.