- Rapid deployment
- Support for a wide range of data sources
- Client apps for all the main mobile platforms
- Simple and intuitive user interface
- Integrated collaboration features
- Some inconsistencies in client apps
- Not yet integrated with other Spotfire BI tools
The trouble with a lot of Business Intelligence (BI) applications is a tendency to concentrate on the analytical side of the equation, leaving users to look up and interpret the information they provide. Whether it's on an analytics dashboard or a report, you have to go to the right place, work out what information you're interested in and how to access it. More than that, you'll probably need a Windows PC or laptop plus knowledge of the BI tools employed to get to the intelligence you're after.
Vendors have come up with several ways of getting around this issue, the TIBCO Spotfire Mobile Metrics approach being to simplify the process by concentrating on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) required to monitor your business — revenues, sales volumes, items shipped, for example. Using the TIBCO Spotfire tool, those KPI metrics can be predefined and calculated from the supporting data sources, and the results delivered and displayed by a Mobile Metrics app using simple traffic-light colours to indicate when changes occur.
So, instead of having to seek out and interpret BI data, Spotfire Mobile Metrics can do it all for you, enabling you to see at a glance how your business is performing with minimal effort.
At least that's the theory. What's it like in practice?
What it's not
Before jumping in and looking at how Spotfire Mobile Metrics works, its important to just understand that, despite the name and the fact that it's a BI application, it has very little to do with any of the other products in the Spotfire analytics portfolio — at least for the time being. That's mainly because TIBCO only acquired the developer, Extended Results, in September 2013, giving it little time to do much more than rebrand the original PushBI product and make a few changes here and there.
Closer integration is planned for the future, but for the time being Spotfire Mobile Metrics is a more or less self-contained product. Fortunately, that's not a big drawback because the product performs impressively whether you're an existing Spotfire customer or not.
The best way of discovering what a product like this is all about is to take it for a test drive, so that's exactly what we did, signing up for a free 14-day trial and putting it through its paces using our own test data and some typical mobile devices.
There are a few limitations to the trial, which is hosted on TIBCO servers whereas buyers of the full enterprise product can run on-premises server software. Enterprise buyers also get to work with a variety of data sources including SQL Server, Oracle, Teradata and other ODBC databases plus Excel and Google spreadsheets. There's also a full Windows authoring client to coordinate and automate collection of KPI data, whereas trial users can only upload Excel spreadsheet manually (TIBCO supplies predefined templates to identify the KPI metrics).
Still, even with those limitations we felt the trial would give us a pretty good idea of what the product could do, so we jumped right in and downloaded a template and used it to build our KPI data source. Several templates are available, for sales, education, insurance, healthcare and other industries, but we chose the generic template containing just the required column headings and some helpful instructions.
What we did
As can be seen in the screenshot below, we modelled an (imaginary!) requirement to keep a close eye on the number of enterprise reviews being published on the ZDNet website. To this end we opted to monitor three categories (servers, networks and cloud services) over a six-month period, creating a KPI for each of these categories plus another to reflect the total number of reviews published.
Using the template we identified each KPI by name — Servers, Networks, Cloud Services and Total reviews. Each month was then entered on a separate row with an actual value for the month concerned along with a target number and the lower and upper thresholds (specified as percentages) to use to trigger a colour change. We also specified a KPI indicator to apply — 'Increasing is better' in this case — and took the default option of computing the current status using the last row of data; other options are to use the first row, or the sum or average of all the rows.
In practice, of course, you would have the data computed from other spreadsheets or collated from a variety of sources. The whole process can also be automated. However, for the trial we manually entered and uploaded our data to the Spotfire website, the server using the column headings to interpret our figures and generate our KPI metrics. We were then able to preview those KPIs using a browser client before pushing them to the Spotfire Mobile Metrics app (available for free download from the relevant app stores). We used an Android tablet and another running Windows 8.1 for our tests, with an Apple iOS device another option.
What we got
Once connected to the Spotfire trial site, our KPI feed was immediately pushed out and synchronised. Here's what we got on the Android tablet:
It's a very simple interface with coloured tiles employed to show the status of our review KPIs, the red tile drawing our attention to the low number of network reviews for February whereas the Total reviews tile shows yellow as the metric is on target.
By clicking on a tile we were then able to drill down to more detailed historical data. We could also add comments to share with other users and build a list of favourites, which would be of help if large numbers of KPIs were involved.
The other apps are very similar — our Spotfire Mobile Metrics KPIs looked like this on Windows 8.1:
As you can see, the initial dashboard interface is a little different in layout but, again, we could drill down for more detail, add comments and create a list of favourites. Another useful option is the ability to link from a KPI to associated reports created by external applications, including other Spotfire tools.
Usefully, we were also able to pin our individual KPI tiles to the Windows 8.1 Start screen, which meant we could see them without having to run the Mobile Metrics app directly.
It was all very easy, taking just over an hour from downloading the template to being able to view our KPI metrics on a mobile device — most of this time was spent working out how to use the spreadsheet template. Navigating the apps was also pretty easy, mainly because there aren't that many options. But then that's the beauty of this tool — it simply delivers the information you're interested in without undue complication.
Our overall impressions were very positive. There were a few inconsistencies between platforms, and for older versions of Windows the only option is a very simple browser client. These considerations aside, Spotfire Mobile Metrics worked well. The trial does limit what you can do, and doesn't provide the opportunity of trialling the full KPI authoring client. Still, it does whet the appetite for more and gives a good insight into what the product has to offer.
Some users may find the lack of client functionality a disadvantage, but we really liked the way it concentrated solely on those all-important Key Performance Indicators, delivering the information needed to monitor business performance with the minimum of fuss.