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SAP Nabs Roambi

Mobile business intelligence is a feature, not a product. The latest proof comes by virtue of today's announcement of SAP’s acquisition of Roambi, a vendor that specializes in mobile BI apps and services for Apple Inc.’s iOS platform.

Mobile business intelligence (BI) is a feature, not a product. The latest proof point comes by virtue of SAP AG’s acquisition of Roambi, a vendor that specializes in mobile BI apps and services for Apple Inc.’s iOS platform.  

It isn’t that a device-specific approach to mobile BI isn’t viable. Not at all. Roambi’s own success demonstrates as much – at least initially. In 2010, it was arguably first out of the gate with BI dashboard and presentation apps for Apple’s then-new iPad.

“Traditionally, the BI users in a company are quite limited. When you look at the entire scope of how many users there are, the number of mobile users is going to be at a much greater scope, so we’re kind of putting this product differentiation out there. We’re focusing on delivering products that include analytics,” Dave Becerra, co-founder of Roambi parent company MeLLmo Inc., told BI This Week in 2012.

Roambi’s success proved there’s a market for a BI user experience (UX) optimized for a specific device. What it didn’t prove was that a BI offering designed specifically for the mobile market -- and only for the mobile market -- could be a viable, long-term business and product model.

Certainly, it was a viable business model for Roambi, which had the advantages of foresight and timing, but could it be viable for late-comers – or, more precisely, for the start-up entrants that would find themselves competing against the likes of IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., MicroStrategy Inc., Oracle Corp., Qlik Inc., and, yes, SAP?

Following Roambi’s lead, each of those vendors has steadily enhanced its mobile portfolio with device-optimized features, some by dint of in-house development, some -- such as SAP -- by means of acquisition. “All of the BI vendors have been improving their capabilities to the extent that having [device-optimized BI] as a pure-play as Roambi was just  didn’t make sense,” says industry luminary Cindi Howson, a research vice president with Gartner Inc.

As for how the acquisition will pan out for SAP, now as ever, that depends on the execution.

SAP said little concrete about its plans for Roambi. (The press release announcing the acquisition was uninformative. “With the acquisition of the Roambi suite of solutions and related key assets, SAP intends to continue delivering innovations that enable users with tangible, easy-to-use analytics solutions that can retrieve relevant data anywhere, anytime.” Officials did not respond to a request for comment by press time.)

The company announced the acquisition as part of a combined mobile and cloud push that also touted a new HANA-branded cloud offering – SAP HANA Cloud Predictive Services 1.0, available immediately – and a new (as-yet-unavailable) version of its SAP Predictive Analytics offering. (All three announcements coincided with the ongoing “SAPinsider BI 2016” event in Las Vegas, which runs through the end of this week.)

Gartner’s Howson says the BI market has changed in the six years since Roambi burst onto the scene. “Roambi, we had them in the ‘Cool BI’ class at TDWI a few years ago, when mobile BI was a distinct capability. I don’t think that’s the case anymore.” says Howson, a veteran TDWI presenter.

For SAP, in particular, the acquisition could be a Very Good Thing, Howson suggests,  although that depends on what SAP ultimately does with Roambi’s technology. “A lot of these vendors like SAP get reasonable scores for their mobile capabilities. I think the confusion has been that [scoring] depends on which content and which device. For Webi [i.e., SAP Web Intelligence] on an iPad, [SAP gets] really good scores. For Lumira, if we add Android into the mix, that’s a different story.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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