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Vendors developing BI applications for mobile devices have generally taken one of two approaches: creating software for specific devices, or at least specific operating environments such as Apple's iOS or Google's Android; or developing browser-based versions of their BI applications that don't require installing an application on a device.
Many, if not most, have taken the latter approach. Information Builders, for example, offers its browser-based WebFocus business intelligence software for mobile devices. "The basic idea is that we want you to be able to build once and deploy everywhere," said Freivald.
Information Builders has managed to overcome some of the shortcomings of the browser-based approach. WebFocus can recognize the user's device and reformat itself. And while typical browser-based apps generally can't be used offline, WebFocus lets users download data, an analytics engine and a user interface – all in a single file – which the user can work with when, say, flying on a plane without Internet access.
Native applications, however, can offer a user interface that better resembles the look and feel of the specific device. And they can take advantage of a device's specific functionality such as its "location awareness" capabilities.
MeLLmo has taken the approach of developing Roambi as a native application for specific devices. For example, MeLLmo specifically developed its new Roambi Flow business intelligence and information publishing software to take advantage of the iPad's format and capabilities.
"You can get a better user experience," Becerra said, noting that content and data can be cached offline, making it possible to view and analyze it when not connected.
During the last three years QlikTech likewise developed native versions of its QlikView on Mobile software for iPhones, iPads, Android devices and Blackberries, tailoring each for screen size and resolution, available memory and other characteristics.
IBM has taken something of a hybrid approach with its IBM Cognos Mobile software. Android, Windows Mobile and Nokia Symbian devices are supported with a Web-based application, while users of Apple iPhone and iPad devices and the BlackBerry Playbook can use either native or Web clients.
IBM announced expanded IBM Cognos Mobile support for the iPad at its Information on Demand conference in October. The new app, available through Apple's iTunes store, is based on the MHTML standard (Mime HTML, also called "Active Reports") that provides a higher level of interactivity for data drill-down and analysis – even when offline. "The iPad is really the perfect device for this," said IBM's Mollot.
Microsoft reportedly plans to support browser-based versions of Microsoft Reporting Services and PerformancePoint in the first half of 2012, and touch-based applications on iOS and Android devices later in the year.
Earlier this year QlikTech began developing QlikView on Mobile using HTML5, which gives Web-based applications many of the same characteristics of native applications while making it possible to run on any device with HTML5-capable browsers. QlikView on Mobile recognizes the iPad's "touch and swipe" capabilities, for example.
And that's important because it's unlikely that any one kind of mobile device will predominate in the immediate future. IT managers, in fact, face the challenge of supporting a variety of mobile devices given that most people are using their personal phones and tablets rather than company-issued devices.
The BYOD (bring your own device) approach also creates potential security headaches for IT managers who must balance the data access needs of mobile device users with the security needs of the organization.
QlikTech solves that problem through its QlikView 10 server, which provides IT with the ability to centrally manage security for mobile devices. MeLLmo's Roambi leverages the security capabilities of the BI platform it's tapping into and new features recently built into the software make it possible for IT managers to regulate data access from privately owned devices.
Earlier this year IBM began offering its IBM Mobile Technology Preview, an early version of a mobile application development platform that incorporates the WebSphere Liberty Profile, a Java-based, lightweight version of the company's WebSphere application server. Currently supporting the Android mobile OS, the platform will help companies build mobile applications – and the back-end software that supports them – that can be centrally managed.
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