Dashboard Insight recently spoke with Transpara's Michael Saucier about the hurdles in getting BI data on mobile devices, while offering an explanation of "spontaneous collaboration.”
Dashboard Insight: Can you tell us about the history of Transpara?
Michael Saucier: I’ve spent an enormous amount of time traveling to see customers with my last two companies – Sequencia and OSIsoft – and found that people all over the world were struggling to get value out of their technology investments. There were a couple issues. First, people needed content from various business systems at times during the day that were inconvenient to be sitting in front of the computer. On top of that, everyone had a unique set of needs and a different idea about what success or failure looked like. Often the person who bought the system never knew what it would be used for, what data was important, what data wasn’t important. The cost of deciding what to look at and measure after implementation was too high and often impossible to gauge in advance.
It became obvious that companies could get more value out of their investments if they had pervasive, mobile access to the information they cared about. I founded Transpara on two driving principals: One is delivering composite data, so people could access exactly the information they wanted, from multiple existing systems, and in an intuitive way. The second is delivering on-demand data, with mobile access to operational data anytime, anywhere.
DI: What is Visual KPI?
MS: Transpara’s Visual KPI is web-based operational intelligence software. It presents fast-moving operating information (not planning data) from multiple data sources to users on demand and in context. Since Visual KPI was built to solve some of the most challenging real-time data scenarios in manufacturing (oil and gas, energy, pharma), it can easily handle any operational data needs.
Today, people need to make informed decisions with convenient, real-time data that is relevant to their specific role, in very short periods of time. With Visual KPI, users can access role-based data on any web browser, including more than 400 mobile devices, like Windows Mobile, Blackberry, iPhone and Palm Pre. By making it easy to change what users are looking at on the fly, Transpara lowers – what we call – the marginal cost of curiosity.
DI: You talk about “spontaneous collaboration” – what does that mean?
MS: Spontaneous collaboration happens when people who are involved in related activities collaborate without having an official meeting or being mandated to work together. This can only happen when there’s one version of the truth – when each user has unique KPIs and views, but feels safe knowing that the underlying data is the same for everyone. We all know the common pitfall of one person looking at a report from 4 p.m. while another’s looking at a report from 8 a.m. When data is out of whack, decisions lose integrity. If given consistent, timely data with referential integrity – where the time associated with the data they are looking at is in sync – people can collaborate spontaneously, making informed decisions 24/7.
Consider an example from the utility industry. In the past, the subject matter expert who’s tuning the emissions control system would have to get the control room operators on the walkie-talkie and hold a live conversation to make sure he has the data he needs. With Visual KPI, that subject matter expert benefits from spontaneous collaboration. He doesn’t have to tie up the control room operators in order to do his job, because he has all the data at his fingertips, on his mobile phone - which will help him act correctly, make the right decisions automatically and ultimately have a positive impact on the plant.
DI: What is the biggest hurdle that companies face in getting BI data on their mobile devices?
MS: The biggest hurdle that companies face in getting BI data on their mobile devices is based on the fact that traditional BI vendors did not start from scratch with mobile access in mind. It’s wrong to think that mobile BI is extending traditional BI to handsets – that is just an inappropriate mix. Handhelds are not the device on which to do drilldown analytics.
Also, traditional BI was geared to BI analysts for long-term planning and project management, which creates a significant gap between expectations and reality of what BI can really deliver to an organization. Traditional BI is simply not agile enough for operations. Anything within a week timeline is too fast for it to handle.
At Transpara, we solved the mobility problem first and untapped the potential of real-time operational data for in-the-moment decision making. When dealing with operational performance, you need to decide what you can do right now that will immediately affect performance. This applies to a variety of scenarios, like responding to an emergency on an offshore platform, managing HVAC in a data center, or supervising batches in a bioreactor. With mobile BI solutions like Visual KPI, users can rely on real-time data to affect decisions in the moment and drive results today … not next month.
DI: How is Visual KPI different than other BI solutions on the market?
MS: Visual KPI was designed for mobile handsets. It supports any mobile device with a modern browser, and easily scales up to the desktop and larger form factors, like flat panels. This is a distinct contrast to other applications that try force a desktop application into a mobile solution.
Another important differentiation is the fact that Visual KPI is focused on front-end visualization, not back-end data processing, so it’s flexible and complements any data or BI project. Also, rather than extensive data projects and hypothetical scenarios, Visual KPI leverages all data sources to create composite KPIs, scorecards, trends and alerts on demand, answering questions as they arise and telling you whether you are heading toward or away from trouble.