Saturday, November 26, 2011

DSS LAB Internship Sharing: BI application prototype development on iPad

The DSS Lab runs an internship programme for coursework students to get a taste of what it's like to be an active participant in the research group. Jason Lu recently completed a project where he developed a proof of concept iOS interface for a BI reporting tool, something that we hope to be able to use to do research on mobile and touch interfaces for BI. - Rob
In recent years, mobile BI has become a frequent topic of discussion among BI vendors and users, especially after the success of the iPhone and iPad since 2008. Smart phones and tablet PCs are performing an essential role in managers' daily lives, however, BI users and vendors face challenges with using and developing mobile BI applications.

Over the last 15 weeks, I have worked as a research intern in the DSS Lab to develop an iPad application prototype for exploring the dimensional structures of BI reports. In this prototype, I adopted an approach that presented the user interface using Apple's WebView controller, as well as Javascript and HTML. Users select report generation criteria in the user interface and the criteria will be sent to a web server that, in turn, uses SQL to create a query command  for execution on a data warehouse. Finally, the information for the report is sent back to the client system on the iPad to display the report.

One of the issues for the BI software vendors is the need to connect to a server to retrieve data every time the users attempts to generate a report. This creates a problem when using the application without a network connection, such as when flying. One area of further research may be to try an alternative that stores temporary report data locally in the iPad. However, this may present a security issue if the user loses the device.

Some other areas of future research might also include investigating user interface principles for touch such as pre-defined gestures for things like drill down and roll up.

To conclude, this internship experience offered me a great opportunity to study, in depth, some of the advantages and disadvantages of mobile BI applications on multi-touch mobile devices.  In my opinion, with the tablet device, users can interact with reports more intuitively, but they face potential security and accessibility issues along with the benefits provided by the portable device.

Jason

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