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iPhone Gets Down to Business With Open Source BI App

By Richard Adhikari
Mar 8, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Users of apps from BIRT, the open source Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools project, will be able to access them on the iPhone starting Monday.

iPhone Gets Down to Business With Open Source BI App

Actuate, which founded the BIRT project and coleads it with the Eclipse Foundation, is putting its BIRT Mobile Viewer on the iTunes App Store.

This viewer, which will be a free app, is a native iPhone application that will let users access and control BIRT content through Actuate's servers at no charge.

Cool Stuff

This viewer has been developed as a native iPhone app so it can take advantage of the device's built-in features, Jeff Morris, senior director of product marketing at Actuate, told CRM Buyer.

"We wanted to take advantage of some of the cool core features of the device like its orientation awareness, its accelerometer -- we have a clever 'shake to return home' feature built into the app -- as well as the iPhone's built-in capabilities," he explained. "We could, in future, access the calendar, send emails and make phone calls, for example."

BIRT lets users add a variety of reports to their application. These include lists, charts, crosstabs and compound reports.

The BIRT Mobile Viewer has the same BIRT content that desktop users see on the Web, so iPhone users can browse, select and view any BIRT content. The viewer adheres to the security rules of Actuate's BIRT iServer, so users are restricted to viewing only what they are entitled to see.

The iServer is an enterprise server from Actuate.

Users can change viewing parameters and data filters for BIRT content on the fly directly from the iPhone. The content will rotate from portrait to landscape views as users turn the device, and BIRT content can be flagged for default portrait or landscape viewing mode as desired.

On the iPhone, users can tap links and charts in BIRT content to drill down for more granular views of information.

Business Chops

Actuate's release of BIRT on the iTunes App Store further legitimizes the iPhone as a business device, Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told CRM Buyer. "BIRT is a fairly popular platform for business intelligence," he pointed out.

Many BIRT developers have iPhones, noted Actuate's Morris.

Actuate will later release the software development kit so BIRT users can build out their own viewers.

"BIRT is built and constructed to be extensible all over the place," he said. "If there's a data connector or chart type you need, you can write one."

No Flash in the Marriage

There's one drawback to the marriage of the iPhone and BIRT -- the iPhone doesn't support Flash, which means iPhone users won't be able to see the dynamic charts and graphs BIRT is known for.

"If you access BIRT content on your iPhone, you get static graphics," Morris said.

That could pose problems in the future.

"Users will want to do core dynamic graphics," , IDC's Hilwa pointed out, "especially as they'll have broadband connections everywhere. They might get smaller graphics -- they might get a subset of the data, but they'll want the full capabilities of the application."

This might put more pressure on Apple to rethink its refusal to support Flash, Hilwa said. It will also pressure Actuate to figure out an alternative to Flash that offers dynamic graphics and is supported by the iPhone.

Overall, however, the ability to get business intelligence on the iPhone is a good thing.

"Smartphones are data consumers, so they're natural business intelligence devices," Hilwa said. "The win for Apple here is that BIRT on the iPhone makes the device be seen more as a business device, which is important because the competition -- both Microsoft and RIM -- are focused heavily on the business side of the mobile space."

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