by Bill French on 27/05/09 at 6:57 pm
Bill French is an information architect specializing in Internet applications. He is also the co-founder of MyST Technology Partners and Senior Editor for iPhoneCTO.
Every once in a while you encounter an iPhone app that just feels right; RoamBi (derived from “roaming business intelligence”) not only feels great, it comes with an impressive array of functionality for business intelligence. From data packaging to information rendering, it’s apparent the designers and engineers worked in concert to implement a sparkling user interface across the entire process.
Two Applications – Web Publisher, iPhone Viewer
RoamBi is both a business information packaging service (Publisher) delivered over the web and an iPhone app (Viewer). Information packages are compiled collections of data that may come from sources such as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or web services integrations such as SalesForce.com.
Both applications are available for free and open experimentation; internal use in corporate environments set the stage for RoamBi’s revenue model.
The web-based Publisher service is used to manage your RoamBi account and package information for distribution to iPhones. It provides a spectacular and easy-to-use interface that is so comfortable, it dares you to package up everything you can lay your hands on. With four basic templates (pie chart, card list, grid list, and catalog) you can quickly important and configure data with ease.
The packaging design process is relatively intuitive and straight-forward, providing simple methods to extract the right data for the intended BI objective. However, RoamBi publishers will need some basic skills in Excel to deliver useful information presentations and more advanced skills to create complex packages. At its core though, RoamBi has been designed to accommodate very complex data sets.
The RoamBi iPhone app is an equally compelling instrument that flatters your information with vivid displays and a functional user interface. Behind every UI detail, RoamBi designers implemented more details. Don’t take any displayed data elements as the end of the road; double tap events are scattered throughout the interface to provide alternative views, sorting, filtering, deeper drilling, and search.
The information delivery model leverages over-the-air synchronization of RoamBi files through your RoamBi account. Delivery via email from the Publisher or from the Viewer is also supported. Most interesting is that any RoamBi-enabled iPhone can receive and view reports without a RoamBi account. This opens the door to some obvious security questions, but indeed creates friction-free distribution.
iPhone BI in the Enterprise
Notwithstanding the security issues in the free services, i
t’s clear that RoamBi is destined for internal corporate use with iPhone. RoamBi’s architecture makes it abundantly clear that the Publisher (server) technology will be deployed into corporate IT environments or provided as secure hosted services over corporate VPN’s. It’s pure speculation, but it wouldn’t be surprising to find that RoamBi Viewers can be “fingerprinted” to work only with a specific instance of the Publisher; perhaps even specific documents.
One important aspect of BI in the enterprise is update automation; updating information sets through living spreadsheets and other business artifacts without manual publishing steps. Ideally, changes to documents such as Excel spreadsheets will magically flow out to subscribed (and authorized) Viewers, but it’s not apparent from literature or examples how RoamBi intends to deliver on this critical business requirement. The writing is on the wall though; mentions of the RoamBi Enterprise Server and other BI reporting systems such as Crystal shed light on the likelihood that the design team has thought carefully about transformation of enterprise data.
Businesses of all sizes will find great benefits with RoamBi and it’s likely that a number of third-party providers will emerge to support this platform. Consulting, training, and integration services will naturally emerge around RoamBi. I predict independent data services providing pre-packaged and regularly updated information packages will also blossom as information innovators discover the RoamBi platform.
Elegant User Interface
Security Issues With Email
Strong Visual Presentation of Data
Manual Updating Required
(with free version)
Sound Enterprise Server and Information Distribution Approach
Advanced Excel Skills May Be Required
RoamBi is clearly a BI tool to watch. The [occasional] need for advanced Excel skills affects only smaller businesses, and manual updating isn’t typically an issue for lighter use cases.
There’s a shortage of enterprise-class business intelligence systems designed specifically for the iPhone which also factor in the entire BI process. The timing of RoamBi’s release is about as perfect as the timely delivery of business information that this application will provide for countless enterprise workers.