How the iPad Experience Will Change the Face of BI

iPads. If they aren't yet ubiquitous, it sure seems as if they're everywhere: planes, trains, escalators, the executive suite.

Increasingly, the iPad is being used as a complement to -- and in some cases, as a replacement for -- conventional desktop or laptop computers.

It's a trend that promises to wholly transform the way information is presented and consumed in the enterprise. To their collective credit, many business intelligence (BI) players get this, in part thanks to the foresight -- or stubbornness -- of their executive leaders.

Leading BI executives have embraced the iPad, and executives -- unlike rank-and-file workers -- are the kind of users who can compel an inflexible IT department to accommodate and support their needs.

Kalido CEO Bill Hewitt uses an iPad. So does Michael Corcoran, vice president of marketing for Information Builders Inc. (IBI). Other BI executives tote both a laptop and an iPad. Most would probably prefer to tote only the latter.

Hewitt, for one, didn't initially intend to go laptop-less. Owing to a delivery snafu, he says, he canceled an order for a new laptop and decided -- in a fit of what might be described as exasperation -- to try to tough it out on his iPad. "Tough," however, doesn't quite describe Hewitt's experience.

"I love it. I use it for everything. It's so much more convenient. I carry it with me all day, wherever I go, whatever I'm doing," he enthuses.

What did Hewitt's IT department think about his decision?

"I told them, 'This is my new computer. I'm going to use it for everything,' and that's what I've been doing," he says, smiling benignly.

Although Kalido's software isn't overly dependent on a pretty user interface (UI), a next-gen device like the iPad can show its business information modeler (BIM) to excellent effect, Hewitt observes. A user experience like that of the iPad, he suggests, can "enhance the way that's [i.e., BIM] used. If you think about the way [BIM is] designed, it promotes collaboration between IT and business. Just imagine [IT and the business] collaborating with an iPad, using [a] touchscreen instead of [a] mouse. It's a completely different experience."

IBI's Corcoran likewise uses his iPad exclusively. He loves it, says Jake Freivald, a product marketing manager for IBI who works with Corcoran. "He uses it for everything. He came in [with his iPad] and said, 'I got this, and I'm going to use it.' That's basically what [he's been able to do]."

Freivald, for his part, is bullish on the iPad -- as well as on other mobile devices. In many ways, he argues, mobile or non-traditional computing devices are the perfect tools -- and offer the perfect context -- for the kind of lightweight, pervasive analysis that he, Corcoran, and other IBIers have been promoting for the last 18 months. (

"Mobile BI tends to be a little less analytical because in many cases it's being pushed down to these [non-traditional user] constituencies," he says. "The people running those kinds of [mobile] apps are typically not people who are doing analysis. Part of a CMO's job is to ask lots and lots of questions. A guy who drives a truck and is worried about stocking shelves is only going to be asking questions that are specific to him," Freivald points out.

At the same time, he stresses, the iPad isn't the end-all and be-all of mobile devices.

"Last year [i.e., 2010] was the Year of the iPad as an interactive client device. We would hear from our customers, 'We want a native app just for the iPad. We're only going to be iPad. But that tune has changed a bit over the last four or five months. What we're also seeing is that people are bringing their own devices into work, and while many these are iPads, some of them aren't," he explains.

When it comes to mobile, IBI, like many software vendors, has focused on delivering rich Web applications (based on HTML5) instead of native- or platform-specific applications. This jibes with a recent study from software development researcher Evans Data Corp., which found that a majority of mobile developers are focusing on Web apps instead of native apps -- in spite of the dominance of the iPad, or (in the small-form-factor mobile arena) the iOS or Android platforms. (

Risky Business?

While mobile is undoubtedly here to stay, it poses unique risks of its own, such as "juice-jacking."

At the recent DefCon conference in Las Vegas, several hundred attendees -- the bulk of them, presumably, security-conscious folk who should've known better -- plugged their cellphones into a phony charging kiosk.

This exploit (which experts dub "juice-jacking") was sponsored by information security specialist Aires Security and was intended as a cautionary proof-of-concept demonstration. Attendees who plugged in received the following message: "You should not trust public kiosks with your smart phone. Information can be retrieved or downloaded without your consent. Luckily for you, this station has taken the ethical route and your data is safe. Enjoy the free charge!"

It's one of many reasons why companies will have to think long and hard about how much they're going to expose -- and how they're going to expose it, says IBI's Freivald. "It really will depend on the company. Maybe there are cases where you don't want persistent data, or maybe you want to make it so that you can only go back to the server live -- [i.e.] you can't save it on the device -- these are things that the companies themselves are going to have to determine," he comments.

"The way that we handle [security] in [a] mobile [context] isn't radically different from how you'd protect a [desktop or laptop] computer -- things like passwords and expiration dates. If you're concerned about giving away information accidentally or maliciously, you have to worry about someone taking screen captures [of the device]. There are so many different [vectors]."

On the other hand, maybe it isn't a question of having the most mobile device -- like an iPad or iPhone -- but (conversely) of having a more mobile laptop.

After all, even executives who don't tote an iPad seem to have a weakness for an iPad-like form factor. WhereScape Inc. CEO Michael Whitehead, for example, sports the latest, lightest, and leanest version of Apple Inc.'s MacBook Air. Whitehead used to use a netbook-form-factor PC laptop that -- notwithstanding the compactness of its length and width -- was almost an inch thick. His new iPad-sized MacBook Air? Just over a quarter inch at its thickest point.