Roambi is a different way to do the BI presentation layer. They have come up with an interesting way to accomplish data visualization. Their target is mobile, specifically Apple products. They focus on using smaller touch screens to efficiently browse the data. A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Roambi at their home office in Solana Beach to do a much more in depth review of the product.
Think Different. I know I borrowed the phrase from Apple, but that is because the approach I see from Roambi is so close to Apple. Roambi does BI design first rather than data first. This is generally flipped in BI. We build a model, then we build a visualization on top of that model for consumers. While there are some drawbacks to this setup, it give us some great benefits as well. By going design first, we can have a highly interactive and rich application that just needs data to drive it.
Now, let’s examine the typical BI developer. He or she probably went to school for computer science and is fairly technical. Most BI professionals didn’t go through graphic design classes or study UI in depth. A BI developer is not an expert in the field of graphic design – they are experts in the field of data manipulation. That’s why we have the Steven Fews of the world helping BI professionals design better dashboards. It’s a skill that most BI professionals lack. Roambi fills this lack of design experience and know-how by going design first.
Roambi’s biggest drawback is that it’s just a visualization engine. There is no aggregation layer. There are no formulas to build and no programming to do. This creates a fairly rigid source format that fits into a Roambi that can be a turn off to some developers. When using Roambi, the developer’s question is now “How do I get my data into this format?” not “What is the best way to present this data?”. We have changed the BI developer’s job from something that he is not an expert in, to something that he is. If the developer can answer the first question, you already have the slick UI developed and polished for your sales force and clients. Pushing the developer to do what he does best and providing a polished presentation quickly is a big win in my book.
During my visit, Roambi showed us their new cloud offering as well. Roambi Business is their hosted platform for delivering content to end users. While a non-developer with a excel spreadsheet in hand can put together a quick Roambi, the power actually lies with their web services attached to it. A developer can generate and update a Roambi and attach it to an ETL process. What this means is, with a little work, you can basically have a Roambi update as new data comes in just like a SSRS report. I would suggest you take a look at http://www.roambi.com/business.
The question remains: When should I use Roambi? Roambi has an incredibly slick UI for apple but requires some data manipulation. Do you have apple products in the field with your salesmen? Do you need rich interactive visualizations for them? Do you have the data manipulation skills to fit your data into a mold? If you answer yes, then think different and consider the design first paradigm.
James Vogel is a Senior Consultant at StatSlice Systems. With over 10 years of consulting experience, his current focus is on ETL development, data modeling, and end user reporting tools. Jim finds enjoyment in teaching and getting end users involved with their data and reporting systems. He presents demos and trains clients on the current BI tools that StatSlice offers. He is focused on the delivery of applications that drive business decisions that blend the use of OLAP, ETL, and custom development. Jim has worn many hats on projects, from technical advisor to lead developer to trainer.
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