Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BI Vendor Partnerships are a Thing of the Past

In a recent Information Management blog, BI analyst Boris Evelson points out that partnerships among BI vendors are gone. The market has consolidated and the remaining players are now competitors.

IBM is a good example.  In the past, Big Blue played nicely with the BI vendors whose products needed IBM's hardware, databases, and software. IBM's acquisition of Cognos turned their previous buddies into enemies.

Mega-vendor SAP acquired their way into the BI space with the Business Objects purchase and became IBM competitors.

But Business Objects had been a long-time friend with IBM Global Services who loved doing large DB2 data warehouse projects. Rather than continue with that, SAP has acquired their own relational database, Sybase. 

If everybody is now your competitor, who is there to work with?

Boris adds a word of advice to the remaining small BI vendors:

"Offer your own full BI stack or position yourself for an acquisition. No other long-term options in my mind."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Christian Band Exchanges Musical Instruments for iPhones

In my recent blogs, I gave examples of how computers were moving from a position of scarcity and fixed location to one of abundance and "in every pocket" much like the ubiquitous telephone.

Could the same thing be true for musical instruments?  Might you someday keep an entire orchestra in your pocket?

Before you call me crazy, see how Christian band Rend Collective Experiment plays without instruments (except for their iPhones). 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Purdue CIO Says No More PCs

In the TV show "Green Acres," Mr. Douglas moves from the big city to the small village of Hooterville. Everybody else there shares the crank telephone at Drucker's General Store but, being the cosmopolitan fellow, Mr. Douglas wants a personal phone at his home.

Unfortunately, the Hooterville phone company cannot run a wire into his house. To accommodate his demand, they install a phone at the top of a telephone pool. Mr. Douglas just has to climb up and down the pool to use the phone.

Mr. Douglas's phone situation reminds me of my days in corporate IT for a global manufacturer. Back in the early 1980s, when I needed to write programs for the mainframe computer, I walked to the "TSO Room" where shared dumb terminals were available.

Change first came when management created a second TSO Room for the smokers. But the IT staff was really shocked when so-called "personal computers" started showing up in people's offices and you no longer had to walk to the shared terminals.

I remember one guy wandered the hallways looking for anybody who would listen. "Someday," he would prophesize with the fervor of Jeremiah, "EVERYBODY will have a PC on his or her desk. NO, even people who do not have desks -- people out in the factory! WOE to you if you do not listen!" Crazy talk.

Today, we hear similar crazy talk from the CIO of Purdue University. ComputerWorld quotes Gerry McCartney in an April 2010 article that he sees in the near future that the university will not have any personal computers. Instead, he predicts mobile devices attached to a wireless network.

Due to financial constraints, Gerry needs to cut recurring IT costs by $15 million over the next three years -- a 15% budget cut.

Gerry has his eye on the 20,000 personal computers on campus. He says, "This idea that I have to go to a PC and sit down and use it is as quaint as having to go to a phone to use a phone."  (Especially if you have to climb a pole to get to it.)

If you are my age, you have lived through a period where telephones started as scarce shared resources (the payphone and the party line) and moved to abundant "in-every-pocket" devices.

We may also see the computer go through the same progression.

Monday, May 10, 2010

SAP Business Objects Enhances Explorer for iPad

Last week, SAP BusinessObjects released a new version of their iPhone Explorer for iPhone.  Originally released at the end of 2009, SAP BusinessObjects has added new support for the iPad.  To see an online demonstration of this mobile BI product, click here.

Using Explorer, an iPad user has easy access to a nice self-service mobile application.   At the top, the user has a panel of selection criteria.  The results show up in the bottom pane in graphical and tabular formats.  Using the touchscreen, the user can drilldown into details, change the graph formats, and so forth. 

To learn more, open iTunes and browse for BusinessObjects Explorer.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Homemade iPad Stylus

See Collin Cunningham's Makezine article on how to build your very own iPad touch screen stylus.  Nobody else in your neighborhood will have a custom stylus like this! 

How to Build a Better iPad

Charlie Sorrell at Wired magazine's Gadget Lab tells how to build a tablet computer that will beat the Apple iPad.  Read the whole article.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

iPad the Cannibal

Turning an iPad over in his hands, my teenage son said disparagingly, "I don't get why Apple made this thing."

Evan was about to open my eyes to another point of view on the iPad -- that of the existing Apple fans.  He continued, "I carry my MacBook with me everywhere.  Why would I want an iPad?"

That is probably a very good point: existing MacBook owners will stick to their Apple notebook computers.  They probably would not consider switching to an iPad or having an extra device.

As an Apple iPhone user, however, I easily convinced myself to purchase the iPad.  The iPhone is great as a phone and a small 3G-enabled mobile computer when necessary.  The iPad, on the other hand, was a big step beyond the iPhone and would serve different purposes. 

What about iTouch users?  Without a phone, they really just own a tiny version of the iPad.  I see existing iTouch owners moving to the iPad; people who might have purchased the iTouch in the future will strongly consider buying an iPad instead.

Today in a Fortune article, Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote that the iPad not only cannabilizes Apple's iTouch product, but the entire netbook market as well.  Philip got his insight from a Morgan Stanley study released on Thursday by Katy Hubert.

In their March 2010 survey, Morgan Stanley found that 44% of American consumers interested in buying an iPad would make that purchase instead of a netbook or notebook computer. The survey also shows that the iPad cuts into the sale of the Apple iTouch, eReaders, desktop computers, and handheld videogames.

I don't think that Apple will mind cannibalizing its iTouch business when there is so much more to gain with the iPad market.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

iPadCTO Advises Against iPad Forms

Bill French, at, argues that the iPad is not the place for a user interface with a paper forms metaphor.  Instead, he suggests that a wizard is the way to go.

Have you ever encountered a form on your iPad (or any mobile device for that matter) and thought – [sigh], another fricken’ form. Forms are the equivalent of mobile computing’s Waterloo. There’s no better way to kill excitement in a mobile workforce than by presenting a form that looks like this.

Process-centric wizards are far more useful for two key reasons; (i) they avoid giving users the overwhelming feeling they have 20 fields to fill in, and (ii), they make it possible to avoid steps based on contextual answers. A wizard is no different than a smart app designed to streamline a specific process. Consider this – a mobile time and billing process for a CTO is (at its core) a database management problem, but for the mobile consultant and her manager, it’s a process problem.

See Bill's full article.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

BI Apps for the Apple iPad

After my last blog on Apple iPad apps such as USA Today, UrbonSpoon, and the ABC Player, readers still wanted to know, "What about BI applications?"

If your organization wants to use the iPad for internal Business Intelligence applications, then you have three main choices available:
  • Build and deploy your own enterprise BI applications
  • Build a web BI application and access it with the Safari browser on the iPad
  • Use a pre-built BI application obtained from the Apple App Store

Let's consider for now just the third option.  Who offers packaged BI applications straight from the App Store?

At the top of the list is QlikView for iPad HD from QlikTech, a major European BI firm that is gaining ground in the United States.  To use the BI iPad application, you need to have a QlikView Server supplying data to the handhold.  To see the app in action, QlikView provides a demo server.

QlikView offers output in simple grid data views and nice graphs.  There is basic selection capabilities that lets you pick parameters such as dates and dimensions.  With the 3G iPad, QlikView is aware of your geolocation.

QlikTech has done a great job implementing QlikView on the iPad, supporting basics such as finger movements, portrait and landscape support, high-definition graphics, and integration with e-mail.

Actuate Corporation created an iPhone app for its open-source BI called the BIRT Mobile Viewer that works with BIRT iServer.

Another mobile BI app of interest is iTop from Danish BI firm TARGIT.  Perhaps "iTop" refers to the fact that it sits on top of the TARGIT desktop BI product.  The mobile app needs the latest 2K10 version of the TARGIT BI Suite.  Written originally for the iPhone, TARGIT iTop also works on the iPad.

A key contender in the mobile BI space is the Roambi Visualizer from MeLLmo.  This application is able to take data from files or other BI tools and present it visually on the iPad.  It supports packaged applications such as Salesforce (some type of intial setup is required) and BI tools such as Excel, SAP Crystal Reports, SAP BusinessObjects Webi, IBM Cognos, and Microsoft Reporting Services.  See this for more information.

We will probably see a slew of "BI viewers" coming to the iPad as well.  For example, Sketch Reports from SketchMD allows you to display your Microsoft Reporting Services reports on the iPad.

Other Apple app developers are working on BI tools as well.  Muchbetter offers iAnalytic apps for viewing SAP and Salesforce data.  Leapfactor offers an iPhone app for viewing corporate KPIs and financial statements.

Keep an eye on this new BI application market space-- these are just the first to try out the new mobile devices with high-definition screens capable of doing quality BI.

Other BI vendors such as SAS and MicroStrategy say they will release mobile BI offerings soon.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

iPad Apps and the New User Interfaces

After writing my blogs on USA Today's Apple iPad app and the Memphis Business Quarterly's web magazine, I was concerned that you might jump to the conclusion that the new mobile user interfaces for newspapers and magazines would just mirror their paper ancestors.

Some mobile apps really do resemble their physicial representation.  Take maps, for instance.  While a computer display of a map will look much like its paper version, it can provide you with considerable improvements as well -- you can switch between the classic paper view, the satellite view, or a hybrid of the two. 

Many map applications allow you to select overlays of the weather. The Weather Channel iPad app, for example, gives you the choice of Radar, Clouds, Radar and Clouds, Temperature, Feels Like, UV Index, and 24 Hour Rain or Snow predictions. 

The UrbanSpoon iPad app not only provides a map but an interesting user interface for finding a great Italian restaurant and verifying that past customers were happy with their experiences.

I can see that close to my house is Pitrelli's Italian Deli and Cafe, which 89% of the customers like despite it being rather pricey (one reviewer suggests going on Wednesday evening for the couple's night special of a three-course meal and bottle of wine for $49.99). 

Here's a beautiful application.  From your iPad, start the ABC Player and you will see something closer to a work of art than a user interface.  You could use your iPad to check the ABC television schedule but, wait, who needs a television?

From the iPad, you can watch any episode from any season of Lost (and with with limited commercials, no less).

But you are thinking that these are maps and television shows, just extending their models to new technology.  While some new user interfaces will resemble how we have done things in the past, many will not just be copies of older ways of seeing information.

A company that is mixing things up is Yahoo!.  It takes its Yahoo! Entertainment magazine to iPad in a way quite different from the paper version.

The opening screen of the Yahoo! Entertainment iPad app has a picture of a paper magazine and the comics look like they are printed on already handled paper, but that is where the resemblance to a physical magazine ends. Yahoo! Entertainment lays out the contents in easily accessed blocks for quick review and navigation.  A menu bar at the top allows you to jump between Top Stories, Dear Abby, Book Reviews, Fashion, Odd Stories, and Comics. 

The Odd Stories section uses a paper metaphor; making the articles look like somebody has torn out memorable strips and pinned them to a cork board for all to see.  The Dear Abby section appropriately looks like a table top with air mail paper and a pencil for composing a letter.

I suspect that many new user interfaces will continue to strive for a paper metaphor and perhaps even a retro look like Yahoo! Entertainment achieved with its Dear Abby section.

However, I'm excited to see how companies will continue to use these new mobile user interfaces and made dramatic changes in the way we interact with digital information.

But for now, if I follow ABC's advice and "start here" on my iPad at Lost Season 1 Episode 1, when do you think I will be done watching the series?

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.