Mobile Business Intelligence (BI) has gained a lot of attention over the past few years. Every major BI platform released some kind of mobile app capabilities and companies across all industries are vying to distribute their BI solutions to executives and field operations on mobile devices.
These mobile apps will enable information access ‘anywhere’, ‘any time’ to drive faster, better decision making. In this blog post I will discuss various distribution methods available with the MicroStrategy BI platform to help you get started with your deployments.
The MicroStrategy Mobile platform provides a convenient way to access live data on the go. It provides secure mobile access to dashboards, visualizations, reports and widgets, all without writing a single line of code. MicroStrategy also offers mobile clients with pre-configured projects which offer a convenient way to customize, brand and deploy secured applications to one’s user base.
Depending on your particular situation, there are a couple of ways to deploy MicroStrategy dashboards to a mobile device. There is a way to leverage the MicroStrategy Mobile app, and there is a way to create a custom app with MicroStrategy Mobile embedded. We’ll start with the native MicroStrategy Mobile app approach.
Configure Out-of-the-box MicroStrategy Mobile App: No Code Required
What do you need?
For this deployment approach, you need MicroStrategy Mobile server which will deliver the BI data. Also a mobile client (app) that is installed on the mobile device. MicroStrategy mobile client apps are available for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry devices.
How do you implement?
Configuring each and every mobile device manually is a tedious process. Starting with MicroStrategy 9.0.1m version, MicroStrategy incorporated web-based mobile configuration into the Mobile server. This provides an easy way to create configuration links, which can be distributed to the users. When a user clicks on the links from the mobile device, the mobile client app is configured with the server and project configuration information embedded in the link.
You can access web-based configuration in two ways:
- Access the website using the URL:
[Your Mobile Server Name]/MicroStrategyMobile/asp/Admin.aspx
- You can log-in to your mobile server and select Mobile Administrator from the MicroStrategy tools or you can directly search for the Mobile Administrator in your server:
After you log-in to the configuration website, click on the Intelligence Servers link and first connect to the iServer(s), which has your projects and specify the default properties of the server:
How do you create a configuration link?
Configuration links contain all the server, project and authentication information to configure the mobile client app with your data. To create a configuration link:
- Click on the Mobile configuration link and select ‘Define Configuration’. Pick the device type from the drop down menu.
- In the Device Settings tab, define common settings like the memory limit, offline caching strategy, annotation, printing, email etc. settings.
- In the Connectivity Settings tab define the connection parameters to your Mobile server and projects.
You can define authentication modes at the server and at the project level in this tab.
- In the ‘Home Screen’ tab specify which screen to display after opening the application.
In this tab you can set the pre-caching at startup property for the offline access to the dashboards and reports from the mobile device using either ‘Display the contents of a folder’ or ‘Display a custom home screen’ options.
- Once you are done with all the setup click on the save button.
To generate the URL for the saved configuration, click on the Green web link icon. It opens Generate Configuration URL window, in that window specify the configuration information and click on the ‘Generate URL’ button.
You can distribute the URL link by email, share it using your portal, or put it on your private enterprise server.
When user clicks on the link on a mobile device with MicroStrategy client app, it opens the MicroStrategy Mobile app on the device configured with your settings. If you don’t specify server/project default credentials in the configuration, the user will be prompted for the user name and password after clicking on the link, and the entered credentials will be saved on the device for future use.
Things to Consider
While this approach is extremely handy, convenient and requires no coding, there are a few drawbacks:
- You can’t brand your app icon using this way of distribution, even after configuring the mobile app with your server and project information. Users will still see the ‘MicroStrategy’ icon on the mobile device and there is no way to change the icon image using the configuration link.
- You need to create separate configuration links for each device type, and it is the user’s responsibility to click on the appropriate link based on the device type.
- Because clicking the configuration link updates the same MicroStrategy mobile app on the device, you cannot run two separate applications with different home screens or with different projects. You would need to click on the other configuration link to switch apps/projects..
Let’s take a look at the other distribution approach.
Custom-Branded MicroStrategy Mobile Application: Mobile SDK & Some Code Required
The MicroStrategy Mobile client SDK provides a convenient and easy way to customize and brand your apps without a lot of coding. You can download Mobile OS clients from the MicroStrategy download site.
What do you need?
To develop a custom branded apps for different mobile devices you need to download MicroStrategy OS Client and SDK platform to write customized code.
How do you implement?
Let’s look at the distribution methods for two major mobile OS platforms
To develop an app for the iOS platform, you need an Apple computer, XCode SDK and the MicroStrategy iOS Client. The MicroStrategy iOS Client comes with several samples, so you can customize the sample with server configuration, branding images and can directly deploy that customized app to the App store.
The MicroStrategy client has a mobile application project and the required frameworks that are pre-configured to work with XCode. This provides an easy way for you to customize and build from scratch if it’s necessary. Using XCode you can create just one build for both iPhone and iPad devices (Universal application).
If you have any difficulty customizing or understanding the sample code, you can refer to the mobile client documentation for detailed instructions.
You can make your app available publicly by releasing it to the Apple App Store. This requires an iOS developer account to create and release the build to the App Store. Any apps submitted to the App Store will go through their review process. Once your app is accepted, it will be published to the public App Store (you can control which country app store has visibility to your app).
All iOS apps have to go through an Apple review process which typically takes 7 to 10 days. If it is rejected for some reason, you get back into the review queue when you reapply. This is a frustrating process especially when emergency bug fixes to the app are needed.
Please note that the MicroStrategy schema object changes do not require resubmission to Apple, as the iOS client is just a wrapper.
If the app is proprietary and should be available only within your company, then you can use the Apple Enterprise program. Using this program, you can distribute your apps wirelessly, update them anywhere, and can make it available only to the employees in your company. Additionally, you can deploy multiple apps referring to different MicroStrategy projects.
Once the app is built and tested, you can restrict the app deployment in several ways:
- You can distribute the enterprise build using iTunes and let the users install it.
- An IT administrator can install the app on devices with the necessary profiles.
- You can post a build on an internal web server and let the users download and install the app.
- If you have a Mobile Device Management (MDM) server installed to manage your company’s mobile devices, you can instruct the server to install the app on the appropriate employees’ devices.
For more details on Enterprise distribution refer to this Apple document.
Android applications are developed using the Android developer SDK. MicroStrategy provides Android mobile client and APK which can be easily configured to create customized app.
As Android is an open platform, you can distribute your app in whichever way you want, and the app doesn’t go through any review process.
You can distribute the app through the Google Play store, which will make it available publicly.
The app can also be distributed through email. When you decide to send the app through email, you need to consider the fact that the email message can be forwarded, so any recipient of this message could install the app.
Additionally, you can upload the app link on your website and users can download it only if they allow installation of apps from the unknown sources.
A common way to restrict Android app distribution is to upload the app on the secured in-house server and restrict access to the server.
Another secure and reliable way is to use an MDM server, which will manage the app installations on the mobile devices.
Things to Consider
This approach provides a customized and branded application. There are some things you need to keep in mind before picking this distribution approach:
- This approach requires coding know-how to customize and brand the app using MicroStrategy Mobile SDK.
- Maintenance of the app is necessary with new mobile OS and mobile device releases.
- You need to update the build if the server name or the IP changes with new name/IP.
- You will incur some cost to buy the developer tools and accounts.
- If the default credentials for project/server are not specified in the configuration file then the connection to the project fails. The user won’t be prompted for credentials by default in this approach. To avoid any connection issues to the project, this scenario needs to be custom handled by writing code to prompt for user credentials (samples are available in the MicroStrategy Mobile SDK).
Overall, MicroStrategy provides multiple ways to deploy your Business Intelligence solution to mobile devices. Selection of the distribution method is driven by the level of customization required and the level of restriction desired. I’d love to know which approach you are using in your company, so feel free to drop a comment below.