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BI and Bring Your Own Device

Every time someone has a satisfying technology experience, the bar gets set higher.

By Bob Potter, Vice President and General Manager, Rocket Software

The conversation about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is lively and complicated -- and for good reason. After all, it touches on fundamental issues including confidential company information, data security, and mingling personal data with company data. Data-driven organizations want their employees to be knowledge workers, so it is not unusual for people to be looking at revenue dashboards while listening to their favorite Pandora radio stations as they run to catch a train. This is creating special challenges for developers of business intelligence and analytics tools, who now need to create intuitive experiences on almost every conceivable platform.

One of the major reasons for the massive shift towards BYOD is the extraordinary relationship that people have with their devices. A significant number of people feel they can’t live without their iPads, iPhones, or Androids. Have you ever left yours at home? I challenge you to get through the day without feeling isolated and unproductive! The relationship between individuals and their devices is so intimate that business software developers are required to support all popular phones and tablets.

Mobile devices are serious business tools, not just gadgets, and problems arise when data sets get large and charts require the larger viewing areas found in tablets but not phones. Data refresh times on your device should be snappy, so the visualizations should be stored in a device cache, and the source data stored on a scalable server accessible via a high-bandwidth connection. The tolerance for latency is extremely low. The line between personal computing and business computing has blurred -- and we can thank these personal devices for that.

The ability to create consistent user experiences across heterogeneous devices and platforms is already a reality in many of the applications we use today, as evidenced by e-mail, calendars, and social media. Most business software vendors have adequate development resources to build device-independent user interfaces -- but it hasn’t been easy. The evolution of HTML standards and browser compatibility has been choppy at best, but BYOD isn’t going away and user patience for inter-device glitches will only diminish.

BI software developers can’t control bandwidth, connectivity, and the popularity of certain devices -- among other things -- but we can control the native interaction with the devices and the consistency between devices that is mandated by knowledge workers interacting with data any way they please from any device that suits them. Organizations can no longer limit how employees interact with corporate data, but they can control their authentication and access security.

Network design and administration also play large roles in meeting and managing the expectations that accompany the BYOD shift. Mobile device management, cloud-based product architectures, and high-bandwidth LANs (not to mention broadband at home) are giving business workers impressive results. The real test lies in implementing solutions with the speed and reach necessary to meet the users’ demands for more insight -- while navigating the uncharted waters of network and data security, data partitioning, and section access based on credentials and query performance prioritization.

BYOD just exacerbates the democratization of data discovery to which all businesspeople feel they’re entitled. This can get very expensive for the networking and database teams who work in IT, not to mention the frustrations they feel when supporting an employee’s company-provided laptop and his or her personal smartphone.

Given all these realities -- user expectations, technical and logistical constraints, and complexity among disparate technologies -- perhaps the best strategy is to step back and recognize the reasons why today’s modern business users presume they can have it all. Every time someone has a satisfying technology experience, the bar gets set higher ... and higher, and the bar is never lowered.

Take a deep breath and appreciate the unique challenges that come with working in the midst of the BYOD phenomenon and think about the type of experience you want to have on your own device when you are searching or analyzing your data.

Bob Potter is vice president and general manager of Rocket Software's business intelligence/analytics business unit. He has spent 33 years in the software industry with start-ups, mid-size and large public companies with a focus on BI and data analytics. You can contact the author at

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