New analytics app for iPad, iPhone could benefit frontline workers

A business intelligence software maker is hoping to transform the iPad from a consumer gadget to a valuable business tool.

Last week, MicroStrategy Inc., based in McLean, VA, rolled out its mobile BI (business intelligence) application for Apple Inc.’s popular iPad and iPhone devices.

The app takes advantage of touch technology in the two Apple devices, Jim Broadley, MicroStrategy Canada’s country manager told ITBusiness.ca.

MicroStrategy already has a mobile BI app for Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices, and Broadley said his company is looking to create the same for other popular smartphones, such as the Google Android.

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The iPhone and iPad (with its larger screen) are ideal devices for mobile BI applications, according to Sanju Bansal, executive vice-president and chief operating officer at MicroStrategy.

He said the bigger display and multi-touch interface offered by these devices enable users to quickly access and view BI dashboards on the go.

A small screen smartphone would make viewing data difficult, while a laptop is sometimes cumbersome to carry, Bansal noted.

The iPad sidesteps these obstacles, the MicroStrategy executive noted.

Its light weight makes it easily portable, while the bigger screen allows for easy data viewing,

MicroStrategy’s latest mobile BI offering includes features such as:

  • Automatic user role identification
  • Auto-location detection through GPS data and integration with Google Maps 
  • Bar code scanning features using the iPhone’s camera (Apple still has to produce an iPad with a camera)
  • Integration with e-mail, SMS and social media

Apart from multi-touch gestures native to the iPhone and iPad, MicroStrategy has also included other gestures that let users dig up additional data related to an entry, said Bansal.

MicroStaregy’s Mobile BI prices range from $550 to $2,000 per user. The company is also offering customers 25 unrestricted licenses at no additional charge.

BI breaks free

Business intelligence is breaking out from its corporate confines, according to Nigel Wallis, a research director at  Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd.  

The growing interest in mobile BI is an indication of this, noted Wallis, who specializes in mobile strategy.  

He said IDC has been tracking this phenomenon, and will soon release the results of its study.

“Traditionally, BI was associated with senior management and super users, who needed to see the big picture. Today more organizations are feeding that data down the corporate chain to lower-level management,” said Wallis.

“Mobile BI apps have the potential to push that even further down to  frontline workers.”  

Moving forward, he said, BI will be ported to mobile devices of sales personnel, service technicians, inspectors or employees who have direct contact with customers.

However, the type of BI data consumed by frontline workers will be very different from that gleaned by senior management, the IDC analyst observed.

“There will be no need for the deep analytical functionality demanded by super users, who make high-level decisions.” Instead, frontline workers will want instant access to customer data, warehouse or delivery information, said Wallis.

The iPad, he said, would be the ideal device for such scenarios as it combines portability with ease of use.

The device’s large screen makes viewing charts and graphs much simpler than it would be on a smartphone.

Yet the tablet is lighter, and has a smaller form factor than a laptop.

The absence of a real keyboard may take getting use to, but Wallis noted that many mobile personnel do not do much traditional typing anyway.

He said the iPad’s touch interface is ideal for flipping through pages in a BI application or moving across data.

Having instant mobile BI could be a game changer for many small firms, he said.

“Imagine a sales person being able to determine instantly if the warehouse can cover an emergency order and then executing the needed transaction without going back to his computer.”

A mobile BI tool could also be configured to help sales people quickly prioritize multiple client calls based on categories such as: time of call, route, previous engagement, or potential profitability.

Mobile BI in action

Broadley of MicroStrategy said the Canadian mobile BI market is divided into two broad groups: firms that want to access analytics on a BlackBerry device, and others that prefer to do that via an Phone or iPad.

For instance, he said, fashion retailer Nygard, has rolled out MicroStrategy Mobile Intelligence for the BlackBerry to its entire sales force for more than a year.  On the other hand, Rogers Communications Inc., Bank of Montreal and CIBC are focusing on the iPhone.

Another customer, Alloso Technologies, which makes specialized software for the hospitality industry, is using MicroStrategy’s mobile technology in an iPhone application.

The app is targeted at hotel general managers, said chief technology officer Jon Gorman.

“General managers at hotels, typically, don’t spend much time in front of computers,” said Gorman. “We wanted to come out with something more portable.”

The application will provide managers with financial information, such as how the business is performing against its budget and much more, he said.

He praised Apple’s approach to iPhone development, saying leaving adequate time gaps between OS releases has allowed for the APIs (application programming interfaces) to stabilize.

In the future, Alloso is looking to develop an iPad application for users “who aren’t so mobile,” Gorman said.

With files from Kathleen Lau.   

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