Friday, September 25, 2009

Shift Happens

See the latest version of "Shift Happens" for trends in technology and globalization.  It provides amusing (we're not reading newspapers in the toilet anymore), interesting (by 2020, mobile devices will be the dominant mode of accessing the Internet), and scary trends (if you're an American, that is).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

SAS iPhone BI

After reading my blog on using WebFOCUS to run iPhone BI applications, Sy Truong of MetaXceed sent me the following information on an iPhone architecture for SAS:
SAS iPhone App Architecture
The delivery of SAS data and reports to an iPhone application is unique and requires a different architecture as compared to traditional client server systems. This is similar to web applications in how it is delivered to a browser but in this case, the application replaces the browser. The diagram below illustrates the components of the iPhone SAS application architecture including: the iPhone application, a web server and the BI Flash server.

In this example, the iPhone application on the iPhone communicates through standard TCP/IP protocol to a web server. The web server then communicates to an application server which is actually a SAS session processing SAS programs and data. The output resulting from the SAS program is then delivered back to the iPhone in a similar way a web browser would access a web page the serer. The distinction however is that the iPhone application is not a web browser and the SAS session running on the server is more dynamic compare to a static page. The SAS data and macro program it executes may be simple and standard but facilitating the communication takes a little more effort. The request from the iPhone application and the delivery of information from the server is handled by BI Flash. This makes the experience more dynamic and delivers the full power of SAS on the server. The following steps are taken in order to facilitate the access of SAS data from an iPhone App.
Step 1 - Download iPhone Application

One of the most unique and successful aspects of the iPhone is how users can easily download an iPhone App directly from the iPhone App Store. There is a user friendly way of searching for and downloading the application to your iPhone. In this case, you can download BI Flash App which is the client component which enables the communication between the iPhone and the SAS server.

 Step 2 - BI Flash Application Server

More details on this step will be explained in the "Application Server" section but an administrator would execute the BI Flash server. This server functions as a listener waiting for a request from the iPhone. Upon receipt, it would process the request similar to how you would submit SAS programs from display manager. The server would generate a SAS log and output results in XML which is then sent back to the iPhone to be viewed.

Step 3 - Connect iPhone to Application Server

Most iPhone applications have configuration settings. This allows for users to easily configure settings during setup and then use the application without further changes unless future configuration changes are needed. In order for the BI Flash example iPhone app to access SAS, the user would need to configure the following:



Host Name - This the name of the server or an IP address of the SAS server.

User Name - A valid user name that has been defined on the server needed during authentication

Password - A user defined password to secure access

There may be other configuration options which will set the default behavior of the application but the parameters above show the minimum requirement in order to connect to a SAS server.

Step 4 - Run Application

The final step taken by the user to access SAS data is to execute the SAS macros from the iPhone. This request is initiated from the iPhone app and sent directly to the server with user selected options. The results are then returned to the iPhone displaying the most updated information on the server.

The system architecture in this example is rather simple compared to other systems that require multiple layers of middleware. This is similar to the SAS/IntrNet where users are on a web browser accessing SAS data and programs on the server through the broker and SAS application server. The difference however is that the client is not a browser, but rather a dynamic iPhone application.

Searching through the iPhone App Store, I could not locate the BI Flash application that Sy references.  Regardless, the architecture that Sy describes is very similar to that used by WebFOCUS which I will document in the near future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Accidental iPhone BI

I admit it -- I converted to Apple. It started with an accidental iPhone purchase.

I never intended to buy an iPhone. Instead, I planned to replace my Treo with a brand new Palm Pre from the same carrier. Unfortunately for Sprint and Palm, the teenagers working at the strip-mall store lost my order. After weeks of strange phone calls with kids who could never find my order nor know when truck shipments would arrive ("Dude, if I could predict the future, I would be rich and not work for Sprint!"), I simply went to the Apple Store and came out with an amazing iPhone.

While waiting in the red velvet line (this was the weekend of the 3Gs release), I was introduced to the Apple Fan subculture. When not tapping away at the touch screen, iPhone users advocated their favorite downloaded apps with cohorts. Apple employees were professionals, passionate about their work.

Literally within seconds, the iPhone was accessing my personal and corporate e-mail accounts and calendars. I could easily connect to WiFi or the AT&T 3G network to browse websites with the Safari browser. Even secure sites were available through a VPN connection.

I even paid the $2.99 per month fee to listen to Sirius XM satellite music on the iPhone. (I also got a sick feeling about having just paid $150 for an MP3 player and $399 for a Sony Book Reader.) Everything I needed to be productive was now at my fingertips; I stopped waiting for the Windows bootup on my PC except for things that required heavy-duty typing.

So far, two individuals have walked away from my personal iPhone demos to go directly to the Apple Store to buy their own. Yes, the same day. Immediately. Others have changed their Christmas, birthday, and other gift-buying/gift-getting plans. One of my straight-laced employees responded to my iPhone enchantment with, "Sorry, I want my phone to be a phone. That's all it needs to do."

So I added some real sizzle.

On my iPhone, I logged into a secure executive dashboard for a well-known restaurant. The Safari browser visually showed corporate-wide key performance indicators for sales, speed of service, food costs, labor costs, and cash register operations. All right there in my hand, blazing fast. From the total level, I tapped down through the company hierarchy until I reached a specific store. I looked at their raw item inventory to see if they had enough cheese. I pointed out a red stoplight where the manager had failed to staff enough people on cash registers the previous day, causing a negative impact to speed of service and revenues. I tapped to get a trend of the past 20 days to see if that was just a new occurrence.

My friend responded, "Boy, I have to get one of those."

We had created this business intelligence application using the WebFOCUS software product from Information Builders. Initially, the plan was to have on-demand access through a PC web browser and push out static reports to e-mails, printers, and Blackberry devices.

Just like my personal use of the iPhone, the restaurant's corporate use of iPhone was accidental. During the development project, somebody tried to access the dashboard directly with a Blackberry but with no luck. It seems that the WebFOCUS BI Dashboard uses web techniques not supported by the Blackberry. Even if the Blackberry user could get past the initial dashboard screens, the reports did not display well on the handheld.

Not so on the iPhone. The Safari browser is top-notch and allows zoom in-and-out of the screen content. Even client-side scripts, cookie techniques, and secure LDAP integration worked on the iPhone. The iPhone even supported dashboard exports of data to PDF and Excel.

My accidental iPhone purchase has caused all sorts of changes for me and the people around me. I would write more about it, but I have to go sign for a FedEx package -- an Apple MacBook Pro just showed up.

About Me

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.