BI Hits the Road III: Two Niche Vendors Considered

As I’m writing this post, more software vendors are launching their mobile business intelligence (BI) solutions. So I’ve decided to hurry up and start talking about the vendors that are shaping the mobile BI space.

In this installment of BI Hits the Road (see Part 1 and Part 2) I will describe some of the features of two specific mobile BI solutions offered by a couple of vendors: Roambi from MeLLmo and Visual KPI from Transpara. They are both very competent solutions, but they have important differences regarding their platforms and market focus. This comparison might help you define what you’re looking for from a mobile BI solution. For this review exercise, I’ll be considering a small but important set of features to take into account while looking for a mobile BI solution:

  • General features. You may find some basic information relevant to consider when evaluating a mobile BI solution.

  • Mobile platform. This is the type of mobile operating system on which the mobile BI solution can run.

  • Connectivity and integration. Many organizations need to connect the new mobile solution to a pre-existing BI platform or other types of systems. Can you connect or integrate your mobile BI application with other traditional BI applications?

  • Architecture. How is the BI platform installed: is it hosted, or on-premise? And how is information being visualized on the mobile phone: with a thin client, or using a specific app?

  • Security. This is how the BI application applies security measures to ensure that data is safe and to prevent data leaks.

Based on this specific set of features and criteria, let’s talk about two niche vendors: Mellmo, with its flagship product Roambi, and Transpara, with Visual KPI. In both cases, mobile BI is the main focus, but it’s achieved from different vantage points. Roambi provides a mobile BI solution via an app for Apple devices, while VisualKPI uses a Web-client architecture to provide mobile BI services to several types of mobile devices and platforms.

Roambi (MeLLmo)

Headquartered in San Diego, California, Mellmo has created a BI solution intended to provide BI applications for Apple’s ever increasing market. Led by experienced BI experts, Mellmo had created Roambi, a solution specifically created for Apple’s mobile devices. Mellmo expects to bring high-quality mobile BI solutions to a market eager to have mobile data.


Figure 1. Roambi on the iPhone

Here are some of the features that Mellmo offers with Roambi:

  • General Features. Roambi is offered in three different versions: Roambi Lite is a free version, for individuals. Roambi Pro is intended for small to medium organizations and/or small workgroups. The Roambi ES3 application is intended for organizations that need critical business reporting and data visualizations on a secure platform behind the organization’s firewall.

  • Mobile platform. Taking advantage of the increasing popularity and adoption of the iPhone and iPad platforms, Roambi was especially created for them. Roambi can even be downloaded directly from the App Store. A beta version of Roambi for Blackberry devices is available for existing customers.

  • Connectivity and integration. Roambi can be integrated with some of the most popular BI suites on the market: SAP Business Objects, Oracle Hyperion and Essbase solutions, IBM Cognos, and Microsoft Services BI Reporting and Analysis. It also enables users to read information from different sources: Google Docs, Salesforce, SAP Business Objects, SAS Enterprise BI Server, and others.

  • Architecture. Depending on the version, Roambi is offered as a hosted service (Roambi Lite and Roambi Pro) or as an on-premise product (Roambi ES3) that runs behind your organization’s firewall. To provide all the data visualization, the client is an application that resides within the mobile device.

  • Security. Roambi adjusts its security schemas according to the version. The enterprise edition being the more sophisticated version, information is transmitted using hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) encryption. Features such as remote wipe and remote file delete, as well as the use of an offline personal identification number (PIN) to access information, ensure data is safe during transmission and visualization.

  • Customers: Life Technologies, Novartis, Vodafone

Roambi offers a set of appealing data visualization options for both iPhone and iPad, as well as Blink technology for visual interaction with in-memory data sets. Roambi’s connectivity to other BI tools makes it possible for companies that already have a BI solution in place to quickly deploy a mobile solution. The fact that Roambi is currently optimized for a single platform, however, might limits its entrance to organizations with other various types of mobile initiatives already in place.


Figure 2. Roambi on the iPad

You can see Roambi in action here.

Visual KPI (Transpara)

Transpara Corporation is also based in California (Pleasanton) but has a very different approach to providing BI services. Its mobile BI initiative (Visual KPI) intends to take advantage of many types of mobile devices (and traditional devices as well) for visibility of operational BI tasks and for performance monitoring by enabling the visualization of critical information sourced from different types of systems. In this manner, decision makers and information workers can monitor vital information on the move.


Figure 3. Visual KPI on the Blackberry

Some of the features of Visual KPI are as follows:

  • General features. Visual KPI is a mobile BI product that provides data visualization, key performance indicators (KPIs), trends, and alerting capabilities for data that is real-time and which changes often (usually operational data). Visual KPI is Microsoft Gold Certified for Windows Server 2008. It provides on-premise or private-cloud Web applications that enable users to view information from their mobile devices or desktops in wired or wireless mode. With several options for visualization, information workers can use a very neat Excel-based editor to define metrics and KPIs, which can be sent to a mobile device in the form of a dashboard. Users can then monitor KPIs within dashboards and scorecards based on information coming from multiple types of business software systems.

  • Mobile platform. Visual KPI can run on different types of mobile platforms by using a thin client, and its architecture enables Visual KPI to detect the type of mobile device or Web browser the information is being sent to. Common platforms supported by Visual KPI are Blackberry, Windows Phone, Apple, and Android (including tablets such as the iPad, Android Tablets, and the Blackberry Playbook). On the desktop, Visual KPI works with Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and others.

  • Connectivity and integration. Visual KPI can read information from a variety of data sources, including traditional BI applications, databases, business applications, and Web services (including external data).

  • Architecture. Visual KPI is a Web-based application that relies on a server that delivers screens to devices, using the device browser, without the need to install and manage client software. Storing and processing all information within a server and using thin clients with all devices gives Visual KPI a high degree of portability.

  • Security. With a well-established Web-based architecture, Visual KPI can take advantage of an organization’s pre-existing security strategies and work seamlessly with the security schemas already in place. Also, the use of a thin-client architecture ensures that all information will be stored within the secure environment of the application server, with almost no data kept on the device.

  • Customers: Lilly, National Grid, Microsoft


Figure 4. Visual KPI on the iPad

You can see Visual KPI at work here.

Different Scenarios, Different Solutions

Both VisualKPI and Roambi are strong solutions to add on top of well-formed and reliable BI suites by being able to provide mobile BI services using different sets of BI solutions as a source.

Roambi has an appealing set of visual apps built for the fast-paced and growing market of iPhone and iPad devices, but it might not be an ideal solution for those organizations that already rely on a different type of mobile device or those that have more than one mobile platform in place.

On the flip side, Visual KPI is a product to take into account when organizations need a platform able to work with multiple types of mobile devices already in place as well as to connect to several types of business software applications. However, some organizations may prefer to rely on apps installed directly on the mobile device rather than thin client–based mobile BI platforms.

Of course, there are many other factors to take into account when you are choosing a business software solution. This post has covered some of the basic criteria for you to consider when you explore the products in the mobile BI space and evaluate them for use within your organization.

You can compare several other mobile and traditional BI solutions and see how they fit your organization’s priorities in TEC’s BI Evaluation Center.

I welcome your thoughts—please leave a comment below, and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
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