Up to this date Microsoft is still awaited to announce what is to come regarding their mobile BI project in development. Two screenshots went public after a first demonstration at the SharePoint Conference 2012 which did lead to some conclusions and questions. Maybe the supposed codename “Project Helix” and this Microsoft Pinpoint partner “Mobile Helix” give a hint , but it also maybe that you as a Microsoft BI minded company don’t want to wait any longer for what may come and you could already have everything in place to start your mobile BI channel right away.
You have chosen the Microsoft BI Stack and want to go mobile now? You can – with online and offline functionality.
One of the BI components bundled with the SQL Server are Reporting Services. Focused on the delivery of standard reports this service is very flexible and has some key features that are very useful for setting up a mobile BI strategy. When Reporting Services are already in place you have:
- no or low extra software costs for the mobile channel
- no or low extra infrastructure costs for the mobile channel
- no or low extra training costs for building mobile reports or dashboards
- a lot of charting and interactivity possibilities
- the possibility to write back data
- the possibility to choose the rendering format e.g. HTML, XML, PDF, Word, Excel…
- the possibility to pull a report from a report (web) server (online-access) or
- the possibility to be delivered with a report by the service (which can provide offline-access when combined with a cloud service)
So how can these features help setting up a mobile channel?
Simply by opening the Report (Web) Server to the internet and by following some rules and techniques regarding the mobile architecture und strategy.
Opening the Report (Web) Server to the internet demands a waterproof security concept – here are some bullet points to consider and that could potentially be implemented:
- Do you want only devices with an installed certificate being able to access?
- Do you want only users with a valid active-directory login by the user being able to access?
- Do you want the active-directory login name in the data-connection to use as the security context of the current user, so that Analysis Services cube security roles do work? E.g. with one report based on a multidimensional OLAP data base a person of the active-directory group sales north would only see sales north and a member of the group sales south would only see sales south.
- You sure want SSL encryption on the transport layer (https)
When trying to meet the mobile BI demands or the end users you will possibly find three main interests:
- The need to have custom reports or dashboards delivered to special groups. It is handy that you already have the tool and the know-how to build custom reports in house. Maybe you still need to learn the techniques to or be coached to build reports that work well with mobile clients. You would choose the rendering format HTML.
- The need to do flexible analysis and monitoring of key performance indicators, possibly with drill-up and drill-down functionality, interactive charting and some cross-application integration on the mobile device like phone, e-mail or routing to e.g. a point of sales based on context of the delivered BI information. You could choose the rendering format XML, write a small DHTML that handles the XML (Ajax) and renders the frontend on the mobile device or use an existing framework like BI.Mobile. Using Reporting Service as a web service (XML) offers high speed analysis even with a low bandwidth connection like EDGE, because the data packets are much smaller then HTML (which in addition possibly links Charts as pictures – a big data volume) or PDF.
- The need to have custom reports or dashboards available for offline viewing. Managers and sales people tend to travel a lot, in an airplane or even train/car at high speed there is still a gap of internet connectivity. You could choose the rendering format PDF and combine the reporting services subscription, which automatically renders reports or dashboards based on a time schedule, with a cloud service like Skydrive or Dropbox.
Considering using the BI tools, the related know how and infrastructure already in place, definitely has the potential to meet your company’s individual needs at comparable low costs. For a short video about the BI.Mobile App you can go here. For more information about this approach feel free to contact me.