IBM Cognos on the iPAD?   Of Course we can!

Recently we were approached by a new customer with requirements to deliver a Business Intelligence Prototype on a mobile device, specifically an Apple iPAD.  It was an interesting experience, where we learned quite a bit about the combination of the technology, some extremely positive, and some challenging.

Background

This particular organization has had a modest history with business intelligence, and recognized the need to make an investment, not just in more static list reports, but in an interactive application that consolidated information at a high level, and presented as a dashboard on an iPad.  The initial goal was to provide a prototype of what is possible.    We applaud the strategy of internal marketing of Business Intelligence Solutions. This is an often overlooked component of any enterprise BI implementation.  Even though you never should expect to deliver everything your business needs in a Phase 1, this is a good strategy to build some excitement.  Generally speaking if your business customers are engaged, your end product is much more likely to hit the mark for the business.

Presentation

One of the first things we were asked to do was to give a demonstration of what IBM Cognos 10 Mobile looked like delivered on an iPad.  Seemed simple enough, we already had plenty of experience with Cognos 10 at that point. Some fairly simple configuration of the separate Cognos Mobile Web gateway on a demo laptop, which took only a few hours.  Connecting our test iPad to our Ironside corporate network was easy, as was browsing to http://demolaptop/ibmcognos. But it didn’t look quite right. Currently the iPad’s web browser Safari is not a supported front end for IBM Cognos 10.  Of course this was because was we hadn’t addressed the mobile gateway,   http://demolaptop/ibmcognos/m.  Ok, that looked better.

In order to actually show a room full of people our demo, we decided to hook our iPad to a projector.  This is obviously not a requirement for deployment, but certainly is for a demonstration.  Apple provides a $29.00 Connector to allow an external monitor or projector (VGA), seems easy enough.  What they don’t tell you is that the only applications that support using the VGA connector are the video player, and KeyNote  (Apple’s native rendition of PowerPoint). The piece that is missing is displaying the output of the iPad native web browser, Safari.  In my opinion a significant oversight on apples part.

IBM Cognos’s current support on iPad is via Web Browser, but that web browser isn’t displayed via the external VGA port. The solution was a $2.99 download from the app store. Perfect browser provided a Safari emulation and output to the VGA connector.

Data Development

We decided to use a Cognos PowerPlay cube as a quick to market performant backend to this dashboard solution. If given more time, we may have opted for a TM1 cube, but the intitial data set was small enough and consistent enough that PowerPlay was just simply easier to implement.  And I forgot to mention we had about 3 weeks to deliver this whole solution.

Development

We were able to develop a significantly functional dashboard in Report Studio leveraging a bit of javascript to meet exacting requirements.   I’ll spare the reader the gory details, as it is basically the same as developing reports/dashbords in Report Studion in Cognos 8 or 10. If you are willing to accept Cognos functionality out of the box, then you should be able to do the same.  Key here was testing in Safari Browser on our Laptops, as well as on device.  There were some challenges in creating the exact look and feel that was requested,  but nothing that a bit of time, a little creativity, and some patience, can’t overcome.

Deployment

Deployment was easy with the exception of convincing the Corporate security team to allow the iPad’s on the network. We sent a url link to our dashboard prototype to about 5 people, and within a week over 100 different people had viewed the dashboard. Obviously you mileage may vary here, but the interesting point is that the technology has the potential to make business intelligence viral, which some of which was the novelty, but it gave us the confidence that our approach was sound, and  the business value of the dashboard delivered was high.