Roambi BI: Right Place, Right Time

MeLLmo's Roambi BI platform runs only on Apple's iOS platforms. Is that a risky position or a savvy one?

In almost any other circumstances, you'd almost say MeLLmo Inc. is playing a dangerous game.

MeLLmo develops Roambi, mobile business intelligence (BI) software that runs only on iOS devices from Apple Inc. It's a strategy that could be seen as limiting its growth or -- worst of all -- sure to lead to obsolescence.

On the contrary, Roambi's iOS-centricity seems drop-dead savvy.

In the quarter just past, for example, Apple Inc. grew its share of the enterprise smartphone and tablet markets. According to the tally of enterprise mobility watcher Good Technology, Cuptertino controls full 96 percent of the enterprise tablet market.

Late last year, venture capital firm Sequoia Capital made an additional $30 million investment in MeLLmo on the strength of Roambi's performance. Dave Becerra, vice president of strategy and business development for MeLLmo, spins the investment as a validation of mobile BI. "In the past 24 months, [mobile BI has] gone from something that's nice to have to something that you absolutely need to have," he explains. "We already have about 200 enterprise customers year-to-date, and we've been selling [Roambi] for about 9 quarters. That's 2.5 years of evolving our products for the enterprise."

Indeed. Roambi first made its mark in 2010: the year of the iPad. When Apple introduced its category-defining tablet device, MeLLmo was ready with Roambi. Although many first-tier BI vendors had by then introduced iOS-based versions of their applications -- or otherwise supported the presentation of BI dashboards, charts, and scorecards via the iPhone -- MeLLmo focused solely on iOS development. And, at that point solely on BI.

More recently, Becerra says, MeLLmo has looked beyond BI.

"Roambi is one of the [mobile] applications that our customers are rolling out. A lot of them have teams developing other [mobile] applications that may not revolve around analytics -- they might be more transactional, for example -- but they [nonetheless] depend on the use of analytics," he explains. "We have a Web API -- we call it our Launchpad API -- that allows you to have one separate application that can make a call to our application and actually launch a specific visualization connected to wherever you are in that screen, and when you leave that application, you go directly back to where you are."

Becerra concedes that BI and analytics is MeLLmo's bread and butter. Last year, for example, it shipped Roambi Flow, which Becerra describes as one of its most ambitious BI-oriented offerings to date. It's a native application for Apple's iOS-based devices that serves up -- in iPod-like fashion -- analytics, text, graphics, video, and collaborative content. Imagine the "Cover Flow" feature that Apple introduced with its iPod Touch and mix in data visualizations, charts, spreadsheets, and other BI-like effects.

"It's a way to combine the native and interactive analytics that we created inside Roambi, so [Flow is] a new platform for delivering content and analytics: Soon we'll support the addition of JPEGs, MPEGs -- of video features, so it's a way to deliver much more content than what you're used to thinking of," Becerra comments. "Traditionally, the BI users in a company are quite limited. When you look at the entire scope of how many users there are, the number of mobile users is going to be at a much greater scope, so we're kind of putting this product differentiation out there. We're focusing on delivering products that include analytics."

At this point, MeLLmo positions Roambi as a presentation technology for mobile BI. With each new release or revision of its Roambi platform, Becerra says, MeLLmo typically delivers new visualizations -- it shipped two new visualization capabilities with its December refresh, for example -- and new backend amenities. The emphasis, he says, is on accommodating an enterprise's existing BI or operational assets.

"We don't in any sense want to replace the investment that companies have made in their BI or analytics tools. We're data-agnostic. Our approach is that what we want to control is the presentation of that data on the mobile devices," he asserts. Right now, Roambi supports connectivity to SAP BusinessObjects -- its biggest market -- as well as, Cognos BI from IBM Corp., Oracle BI, Microsoft BI, and SAS Institute Inc.

"Our strategic direction was to connect directly to reporting tools, so rather than going right to the database, we're actually complementing these tools," he explains, adding that -- for this reason -- MeLLmo isn't focusing on supporting data warehousing-centric platforms such as Teradata, IBM Netezza, or others: "TD is more of a data warehouse-type application, so we wouldn't have an integration point."

In spite of the iPad's dominance, the tablet computing space isn't lacking for competition. With Windows 8-based tablets -- running on ARM-based designs (just like the iPad) in addition to chips from from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., and ARM -- due up this year, things should get even more interesting. Circumstances, to invoke the language with which this article began, could become less propitious at least for a vendor such as MeLLmo that bets big on a single mobile platform.

Becerra acknowledges that the mobility arms race is still far from played out, but argues that -- at this point -- enterprise shops are investing disproportionately -- overwhelmingly -- in iPad tablets. "The companies that we target are companies that have already invested significantly in the iPad for the near term,so there's not that much discussion [between MeLLmo and existing customers] about other platforms over time. The question does arise, but I don't see it as a barrier for companies that we target," he comments.

Besides, he stresses, MeLLmo doesn't have to -- or won't necessarily -- remain an iOS-only play.

"Apple at this point has a complete stranglehold when it comes to the enterprise market, so right now we believe [iOS is] the best product [and], the best platform to showcase our technology. We definitely made the right bet doing all-native development on iOS. That may change over time. We may shift to more devices at some point, but right now we're just focused on iOS."

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