Mobile BI and visualization are two of the hottest topics in BI today. But is it just hype or substantive innovations with business value? These were the themes around last week’s briefing webinar with MicroStrategy.
MicroStrategy has long supported mobile devices as an interface to its BI platform. However, its emphasis on mobile BI has increased dramatically in recent years. As Matt Ipri, Director at MicroStratgy, explained, it’s in part due to improvements in devices as well as the greater reach. Industry experts and Apple themselves serious underestimated the demand for the iPad. 1 million iPads sold in the first 30 days, double the adoption pace of the popular iPhone (May 3, 2010 company press release). Mobile devices have a much larger installed base than regular computer users, thus increasing the potential BI user base.
The iPad and tablets in general have a larger screen size that smartphones, making dashboards on tablets more useable. As I’ve written in other blogs, a battle is raging in mobile BI over the best approach: device-based apps or browser-based apps. The battle reminds me of the heated discussions over which was better VHS or Betamax in the 1980s (Beta was considered better but VHS won); or more recently Blu Ray or HD DVDs (still being waged). The argument for apps is better performance and end-user experience. The argument for browser-based is broad support for all devices and no redesign or build of existing BI reports.
MicroStrategy advocates the device-based app approach, and at this point in the market maturity, I agree that it gives a better user experience. Currently, the vendor supports iPhone, iPad, and BlackBerry smartphones natively (not the PlayBook), with support for Android devices in the works.
While mobile BI extends the reach of BI to traveling executives and field workers, visual discovery helps business users explore the hidden patterns in their data. MicroStrategy released Visual Insight in March this year. Unlike competitive visual discovery tools, this one uses a web-based authoring interface and is integrated with the rest of the BI platform. Data accessed either via the business meta data layer (architect) or personal spreadsheets can be visualized. The matrix chart (others refer to this as a trellis or small multiple) is easy to create. A shortcoming of the product, though, is that the visualization is not optimized based on the data accessed; the author has to first choose the visualization in contrast to leading competitor Tableau (BI Scorecard subscribers can access some preliminary scores on MicroStrategy Visual Insight in the detailed advanced visualization scorecard here.).
With IBM Cognos also touting a new visual discovery tool in its labs and Microsoft making noise about Crescent, this raises the question about why visual exploration is so hot and is it all just hype. With the wild success of vendors such as QlikTech and Tableau, with growth 2010 revenues growing at 45% to 105% (according to 10Ks and IDC estimates), respectively, BI platform vendors see opportunity. They also see more nimble competitors making inroads in their customer base by selling to departments and lines of business. It remains to be seen, though, how much the new tools bring appeal and pretty charts to boring BI interfaces. Or do they speed the time to insight over dense pages of numbers. The other secret to these smaller vendors’ success is their ease of deployment and rapid time to value. As BI platform vendors enter this market, the question will be how much customers want enterprise scale and integration versus ease to deploy. Can any vendor or product provide both?
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard