The stakes have never been higher for suppliers of interactive business intelligence. Our benchmark research on business analytics finds that businesses overwhelmingly (89% of participants) want simpler analytics and metrics, and usability (57%) and functionality (47%) are the two most important evaluation criteria according to our Value Index vendor and product assessment methodology. In addition our business analytics research, 38 percent said that accessing analytics and metrics via mobile technology is important or very important.
I have been evaluating business intelligence tools that run on smartphones and tablets for many years to determine how well vendors are meeting the needs of business. In the case of Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile on the Apple iPad and iPhone, I was not overwhelmed by the implementation. In fact, I found significant challenges in configuration, usability and functionality that make the software less effective than it should be. Oracle BI on Apple mobile technologies compares poorly with other products in the delivery of comprehensive and usable BI on mobile technologies, including those my colleague and I already have assessed from Actuate, IBM, Information Builders, MicroStrategy, Qlikview, Roambi and Yellowfin. Let me tell you about my experience.
I attempted to assess Oracle BI on the iPhone and iPad last year, but the company did not have a freely available demonstration available from the Apple App Store. I decided to try again when I saw a tweet that announced free access to the latest Oracle BI on mobile platforms. From the application information on the download page I discovered that the software was published last May, so it isn’t brand-new. While you can download the software, you cannot access the instructions to actual use it; I had to find separate instructions posted by Oracle. The configuration requires a two-pass setup where you must register with Oracle to get user authentication and access to database-level configuration for the demonstration database. I got to the instructions, but after sending a follow-up tweet that I could not get the application to work, I got a reply from Oracle sending me the URL of a specific instruction sheet. Once I reviewed the instructions and got through the detailed configuration screens, I was able to set up Oracle BI on my iPad and iPhone.
This was definitely not a simple process, especially compared to that of most other BI vendors, who simply provide an integrated demonstration database for use when you download the application, eliminating configuration. This approach has been the standard set by hundreds if not thousands of demo applications available over the last several years, and it makes sense since software vendors want people to see that accessing their mobile technology is simple and the user experience is enjoyable. Somebody at Oracle might want to try out its competitors’ applications to see how easily this can work.
Oracle provides one example demonstration called Brand Analysis that has multiple dashboards. Using this, I found that the application fails to take advantage of standard iOS features. For instance, it is not doing initial autosizing to fit the screen or when you zoom into an analytic view, and standard hand gestures that you would typically use on an Apple device are not available. I expect any business intelligence application to support basic interactive user needs, from drill, pivot and page to sort, filter and rank selections. Oracle BI does some of these, but it’s not intuitive about when you can drill down or if you are just zooming into a chart or table, and if you want to pivot, it’s not clear whether that is possible. Paging through data is simple enough, but any level of sort, filter and ranking is impossible unless you go into the full product and build the output, which then can be accessed by the mobile tool. You should be able to easily save views, make notations and share your findings, but you can’t, except for emailing the URL you are looking at to someone else.
I do like elements of the geographic views on the data, but after any interactions the application is slow to respond and refresh, which is surprising, since most metrics and analytics could have been pre-calculated to make the demonstration fast and easy. Our business analytics research finds that search and navigation are the top two requested needs of business users, but Oracle has failed to support these operations as simply as it could.
To be sure I did not miss anything, I went back and watched a promotional video and did additional research on the Oracle website. I even Googled around to see if other functionality that does not come naturally is included in the product. I did find some specific interactions for drilling down and prompting action which I worked through. However, it is not clear that the Oracle developers have spent much time personally using Apple devices, or they would see how difficult their app is to use and conclude that it is not positioned to compete against others in the market. If there is any advantage to using Oracle BI on Apple mobile devices, compared to other vendors’ software, it is not clear to me since you want it to be easy and simple to use.
If Oracle wants to get significant adoption and get on the short list of vendors who provide valuable analytics and business intelligence on mobile technologies, it had better get a better approach real fast. It must also determine how to deliver incremental updates every quarter; treating mobile platforms like Apple’s with the pace of traditional enterprise software releases and updates every year or so will fail. If you are an Oracle customer, you will have to upgrade to its 184.108.40.206 release as it does not support previous releases, and if you are not a customer, then you will have to determine if you have resources to install and configure in IT. I would have hoped that it would offer a version in a cloud computing method to quick start customers, but could not find that this was available anywhere. Oracle competitors have a significant number of public customer references, and could not find any significant ones for Oracle who needs to take steps to energize its mobile BI efforts to stay relevant.
Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer