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Look at the world of mobile business applications and all of the people that write/blog about them and one thing becomes clear: “Mobile BI” has a buzz right now.  So does “mobile dashboards,” “mobile operations monitoring,” “mobile alerts” and a few others.  This has prompted the obvious questions of late: “which one are you (meaning Visual KPI)?”

The question doesn’t come from customers very often because, a) they make up their own terms and don’t seem to care what we or “the industry” seem to call this stuff, and b) they are always right.  It comes more often from analysts, bloggers, partners and competitors.  Either way, it has been on our mind lately so I thought it deserved a few words.

The easy answer is d) all of the above.  This is correct, but let’s look into it in as simple a way as possible:

Mobile Business Intelligence:

Why we fit this definition: at its most root level, BI is all about decision support.  Getting great data to help you make better decisions.  Add mobile to it and it’s all about getting the right data to the right person at the right time on the right device and in context.  This is our bread and butter.  It’s what we live for.

Why we don’t fit this definition: from an industry perspective, BI has a long history in software and a set of applications have become synonymous with BI, including data warehouses, OLAP cubes, and sophisticated data processing.  Each of these implies you are the master source of data, and this is where Visual KPI is different.  We say leave your data where it already lives, get the most from it, and do everything to avoid a huge deployment project.

Verdict: Visual KPI is mobile BI because mobile business intelligence is not just traditional BI on mobile devices.

Mobile Dashboards:

Why we fit this definition: The literal definition of a dashboard is a panel of instrumentation and controls which is basically the same as decision support.  In the software world, this usually means a screen or set of screens with graphical representations of data that can give you the information you need at a glance.  On all of these fronts, Visual KPI is a clear fit.  Scorecards, heat maps, KPIs, roll-up/pie charts, etc.  Traditional dashboard software often pulls data from many sources which is also something Visual KPI does.

Why we don’t fit this definition:  As with mobile BI, dashboards have some legacy baggage they bring with them into the mobile world (right or wrong).  In the world of traditional BI, dashboard software was usually a toolkit that you could use to design a dashboard as a front-end to your data warehouse or other data source.  Dashboard implementations still involved coding and a multi-month project, etc.  Visual KPI is not a toolkit but a finished application.  It is all data driven with no screens to build, and it uses Microsoft Excel as its design environment so there is no coding.  If a customer knows what they want to see and where to get it (data source), and how it is arranged (hierarchy), a Visual KPI deployment can happen in hours.  This is why we can deploy an enterprise-class server application on a free trial.

Verdict: Visual KPI is mobile dashboard and alerting software. It sheds the big project, custom coding a design work and was built for mobile from the start, but it delivers a great dashboard experience for operations or other parts of a data-driven business.  We also don’t require a local app on the phone, but that’s another story altogether.

Mobile Operations Monitoring and alerts:

Why we fit this definition:  This one is much easier.  First, everything about this is a fit.  We are mobile.  Our sweet spot is operations and fast-moving and fast-changing data.  We always show the most current data and alert you when things go wrong, or right, or whenever you want us to.  Like other monitoring tools, we can read data from the source (or many of them) and we present results clearly for making fast decisions with context.

Why we don’t fit this definition:  For the most part Visual KPI is clearly an operations monitoring and alerting application, but like the terms above there is already a monitoring software industry that might have some opposing views on it.  The most obvious monitoring scenario that comes to mind is data center monitoring or Network Operations Center (NOC) monitoring.  Much of this software is tailor-made for large screens, involves huge projects to deploy and often includes 7-figure price tags.  We clearly differ on price, deployment time, and mobility.

Verdict:  Visual KPI is mobile operations monitoring, and could also be called lightweight operations monitoring software if you use it on the desktop.

Mobile data visualization, mobile MES, mobile SCO, and many others. There are a host of other terms we could do this analysis on but really, what’s the point?  As I mentioned at the top of the article, the customer is really the only one who matters.  One of ours even calls us “Blackberry PI” because they use Visual KPI to put OSIsoft PI System data on their Blackberries.

The real question is: what do you think?  We would love to hear some other opinions on this.