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Visual KPI aggregates multiple real-time data sources (big data, historians, databases, etc.) and adds context with KPIs, alerts, and geolocation. It also gets your critical data in the hands of more users without the need for extensive training, and it can be deployed in hours, not months. Want to see how we do it?

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Mobile BI on Browser, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Palm
What is it?

Visual KPI is mobile dashboard software for any device. It reads existing data sources and delivers KPIs, scorecards, analytics and alerts in real-time.

Who uses it?

Decision makers. Operations. Remote workers. Data Junkies. Anyone who values knowing what's happening right now, regardless of their device.

Why use it?

Mobility is no longer optional. Visual KPI presents problems and opportunities before it's too late. Oh, and there's no six-month project that "might" pay off.

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About Transpara

Transpara are the developers of Visual KPI, a mobile and web application for monitoring operations data from any device in real-time. Learn more…

Authors
Michael Saucier
Lead Vocalist & Band Manager
Robert Hylton
Exec. Producer & Percussionist
Collected thoughts on transparency, mobile monitoring and Bl,
operational intelligence, great software. . . and occasionally golf. 
Saturday
Apr022011

The making of a great mobile KPI: It’s All in the Attributes

We get this question all the time.  Almost every time we deploy Visual KPI (which we do over the web in about 90 minutes in most cases) we spend about an hour deploying the software, but at least 30 minutes or more on discussing “what” the user wants to track, “what to call it,” and “how to organize it” (their data hierarchy).

First, there are many types of KPIs and multiple definitions but for our purposes at Transpara a KPI is:

  • Anything you care enough to track (especially while you aren’t at your desk)
  • Operational in nature (the “P” is for performance, so slow-moving or future planning data is usually out)
  • Changes often (otherwise, why would you need it on your phone?)
  • Often requires alerting when things go wrong (it’s important, right?)
  • Has some form of context associated with it (is it doing well or not?)

For this post we will focus on the last bullet above and touch a bit on the others as well.  Context is everything with mobile applications and even more so with decision support information like KPIs and alerts.  So let’s dive into the various ways you can turn an average KPI into something great…

  1. KPI name: Might sound less-than-critical, but naming can really make or break a mobile KPI.  Why?  First, it needs to be short – on a mobile device, you don’t want the name taking up the whole screen (e.g. “how much fuel is being consumed”=bad; “Fuel Usage”=good).  It will also show up on multiple devices, in different views and in multiple places so short always wins.  Second, it must be obvious.  Mobile data should be and will be shared so make sure others will understand what your metric means.
  2. Actual value: This is the heart of any great mobile KPI (or any KPI for that matter).  Getting it right means getting it from the original data source (no middle-men if you can help it) and that it is as current as possible (most of our customers strive for near-real-time).  In Visual KPI, it is the only required field besides the name. 
  3. Targets & Limits: Let’s face it, a KPI is only a KPI if you can compare it with some expected behavior.  Something you want to achieve (a target) and various states away from it (limits) that will put your data in context.  These may come from internal or external sources of authority.  Oh, and edit and test your targets and limits constantly (this is where the Visual KPI Designer’s preview mode really comes in handy for rapid prototyping).  Most importantly, make sure your KPI limits and targets match the way people are actually measured and rewarded or they might end up being useless.  (I’ll write more about choosing your KPIs in another post.)
  4. Data sources: Data can come from many sources, even at the same time, but the key word is “source.”  The most important thing about operational KPIs is getting at the most reliable, timely and accurate data. People will be making decisions based on this, so be careful of intermediate or redundant data sources.  Also remember that constant values and other manually entered data can be important (especially for targets and limits, not very exciting for an actual value).
  5. Responsible Party:  KPIs are there to make sure the right people know when something has gone wrong (or particularly right).  Because of the decision-making nature of a mobile KPI, you may want to alert the responsible party (ideal) or at a minimum let whoever is looking at know who they should notify if something deviates from the expected.
  6. Alerts: Similar to the responsible party (above), but there are two other things that can make or break a good alerting system – timing and volume – and they are related.  First, a great KPI will only alert someone if the situation is real, meaning that the data really went to a new state.  While each situation is different, this often means setting a “time-in-state” value so that a temporary blip doesn’t trigger an alert if it wasn’t needed.  For example, several of our customers set alerts so they only happen if a KPI stays in the new state for over 5 minutes (again, depends on how active your data is).  Second, volume.  Simply put, it means to choose your alerts wisely or you will have alarm bells going off all over and a full inbox.  Only alert on a subset of your KPIs and only when needed.  Crying wolf isn’t the best strategy with operational situations.
  7. Hierarchy (how KPIs relate to each other): This is a large enough topic to warrant another post, but let me just say quickly that you need to define your hierarchy and naming convention with enough context to make sure things show up in the right places.  A good mobile monitoring and BI application with be flexible enough to let you view things from different angles so getting the hierarchy and naming right can be key to keeping your house in order.

As with most of our posts we could talk for hours on the subject and bore you to tears (if we haven’t already).  Either way, this stuff is important if you want to get the most out of your tools and your people.  If you have questions, give us a call and we’ll happily geek out with you on any related (or sometimes unrelated) topic.

Download our free guide to getting mobile operations monitoring and BI right and avoiding the most common mistakes.

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Tuesday
Feb152011

Support FAQ: Moving Visual KPI to a New Server

Back again with a tip for our current users.  We’ve heard this question several times and had a few people mess it up so we thought we’d post it for everyone’s benefit. 

The steps are easy, but the order is critical.

Another thing to point out:  The prerequisites are fundamental and you would not believe how many people ignore the preparation for such a move, imagining that it is just like copying a notepad file from one file server to another. It is not. 

Even though Visual KPI is a modern and quick-to-deploy mobile monitoring and BI tool, it is still an enterprise application and should be treated as such during a migration such as this.

For this post we will assume the worst case, which is SQL Server and Visual KPI are on different physical machines. We will also assume that the database and Visual KPI Instance name are identical and are the default value of “VisualKPI” as delivered form the factory (us). The optional steps will be shown for the trivial case where SQL Server and Visual KPI are on the same machine.

Prerequisites:

  1. OS is not important, you can move from Windows Server 2003 to 2008 or back.
  2. Both servers have all Visual KPI prerequisites installed and tested (.NET 4.0 Client and Extended profiles).
  3. Both servers are patched up to date for the OS version
  4. IIS is configured to allow .NET 4.0 to run on the target server
  5. The SQL software is of the same vintage (i.e. moving from 2005 to 2005, or from 2008 to 2008 or from 2008R2 to 2008R2, etc.)
    • Note: This is a SQL requirement, not a Visual KPI requirement
    • To migrate SQL versions, a more involved process is required rather than simply creating a BAK file for restoration.  Contact us if you need help with this.
  6. SQL Server is patched the same on both machines, or the target machine is more up-to-date with patches than the original

Steps to Migrate:

Here are the steps for migrating Visual KPI to a new server.  Note: make sure you have the necessary permissions before you begin. This should take no more than 10 minutes:

  1. Use SQL Server Backup to create a .BAK file on the Source SQL Server machine, then copy it to the Target SQL Server machine. E.g. VKPI.BAK, containing the database “VisualKPI”
  2. Restore the Database using SQL Restore function, now you have a database on the Target SQL box called VisualKPI.
  3. Run the Visual KPI Server manager on the Visual KPI Target machine and create a new web site instance named “VisualKPI”
    1. When the database creation step arrives, simply choose a DB name of “VisualKPI-deleteme”
    2. Keep all other selections named “VisualKPI”
    3. Let the wizard run to completion
    4. Modify connection strings in the 3 applications, change “DB=VisualKPI-delete” me to “DB=VisualKPI” in
      1. Cache Server
      2. Alert Server
      3. Website
    5. Create all Interfaces (to data sources – OSIsoft PI System, Oracle, etc.) again with same names
      1. For ODBC, OLEDB and OLAP interfaces, copy the *.SQL fields which hold the Current and Trend data queries to their folders in the Target Visual KPI machine, overwriting the default files created when the interfaces where installed on the Target VKPI machine.
  4. Delete the dummy database in the Target SQL Server machine named “VisualKPI-deleteme”
  5. You are done

Hope this helps.  We’ll be along with more tips in the coming weeks so let us know if there is something you would like us to write about.

Best,

Team Transpara

Sunday
Jan162011

5 Mobile Monitoring and BI Trends for 2011?

 

Without Mobile, There Ain’t No Real-time Enterprise

- Eric Lai, ZDNet

 What a perfect way to sum up what’s ahead for 2011…

The potential for customers finally making good on the promise of a real-time enterprise is ripe for the picking… but be wary. There are some major pitfalls to avoid, like trying to shoehorn desktop applications onto your smartphones. And CYA – Cover Your App. We anticipate an app backlash in the enterprise sometime this year.

As we kick off 2011, here’s what’s on our minds: changes in the market, trends to keep an eye on, and of course, some words of caution to help ensure you’re well prepared as you tackle the promises of the “real-time enterprise.” 

1. Cramming Software onto Mobile Devices Is a Bad Idea

Too often our customers ask us to help them take an existing desktop application or display and show it on their Blackberry, iPhone or Android device. Here’s a case that challenges the adage of “The Customer Is Always Right.”

I’ll go on record once again to say: shoving software built for platform X onto mobile platform Y is a bad idea, and not just because it has a small screen.

There is a great distinction between mobilizing an application and mobilizing data. Visual KPI does not mobilize an existing application. Instead, we focus on “why” we are mobile and “what” information is useful and appropriate to have with you at all times.


Great mobile applications: SMS, email, Twitter, Facebook, news, weather, traffic, directions, sports scores.

Poor mobile applications: word processing, graphic design, data mining, HR, etc.


So what do the great ones have in common? In a word, “context.”

  • Here and Now - You need directions now. You Tweet what has just happened. You share photos you just took. You respond to emails that just arrived.
  • Small and tangible – They focus on information you can digest quickly (because you shouldn’t be staring at your phone for hours, right?). Tweets, posts, photos, temperatures, headlines, etc.
  • Perishable - They are all better when they are with you and fairly useless later. Breaking news isn’t breaking if you have to wait until you get home.

Why should your mobile enterprise data be any different? Shove that detailed data mining or analytics app onto phones and watch how many people use it (aside from the team that build it, and even then it won’t last long). So what are the characteristics that make ideal mobile business data? It’s the same as above, with different examples:

Here and Now – in the enterprise, this usually means operations. Are the trains running on time? Is the plant operational? Are our servers down? Is our e-commerce site taking orders? The focus here is on data that a) is critical to running the business today, b) changes fast enough for you to want to look at it (that weekly or monthly report shouldn’t be your target), and c) can alert you to situations that require rapid decisions.

Small and tangible – This is why cramming an analytics or desktop dashboard onto a phone doesn’t work. You must choose your KPIs wisely and don’t include them all. Twitter only allows 140 characters and is wildly successful on mobile devices for a reason. Focus on a few key screens, trends, visual cues and make sure it includes alerts. Less is more, more than ever.

Perishable – Focus on the things a mobile user can affect as soon as they see them. If it takes 50 people and multiple systems to spot a problem and act on it, you probably have someone hovering over it back at the office already. Focus on things that empower users to act right now.

Oh, and yes you will still have too much to fit on a small screen. We spent years refining this and I guess you could say we still are. 

2. Mobile BI Identity Crisis

Compared to a year ago, mobile business intelligence (BI) is finally on the radar of a much larger population. We’re starting to see distinctions made from one vendor to the next based on functionality: dashboards vs. reporting vs. monitoring vs. analytics vs. comprehensive BI on a mobile phone vs. pretty screens with little substance.

2011 needs to be the year when the nuances and this subtle segmentation finally come to light in a way that helps customers can make informed decisions to meet their needs. We know what we do and what we fight against, but in many cases even we still don’t know what to call it. If you are a customer it’s even worse because you have to wade through the jargon. So, what is Visual KPI? Well, our customers use it to monitor their operational assets, do lightweight analytics with the data, rapid prototype KPIs and their organization, and show off cool data to their bosses. See what I mean – what do you call that? I guess we’d call it mobile monitoring and BI (although those last two letters scare me a bit – big topic).

Understandably, a lot of companies have trouble translating their needs from wondering what they can do… to wondering what they will do… to actually doing it. If you’re somewhere along that continuum, be sure to talk to real customers of mobile BI solutions – cut through the marketing lingo to get straight to the actual uses, functionality and value. We’ve always leaned heavily on our customers as the best resources for talking about Visual KPI (thank you!) and you should too. 

3. The iPad is Cool… But Still Not Proven in the Enterprise

The iPad certainly made a splash in 2010, but it remains a rogue for now. While Visual KPI is of course supported on the iPad and other tablets, the form factor is just not industrial yet. Our customers’ device of choice remains the smartphone: for the most part, iPhones tend to be the executive “toy,” while managers rely most on the Blackberry. With that said, though, the iPhone is gaining IT and business credibility and we’re already seeing some users (like in the pharmaceutical industry) asking for new ways to visualize operational data on the iPhone and larger screens like the iPad.

The Android onslaught is also imminent and poised to challenge Blackberry. The constant we see here is continued change and innovation, which for us is a great validation of our “leverage the browser” strategy. We’ll continue to innovate ahead of the market, but also at a pace that makes sense for our customers’ adoption of mobile devices. Ultimately, our goal is to stay ahead of mobile technology so that our customers don’t’ have to. 

4. App Backlash

Everyone loves their consumer apps. Shazam, Kindle, and the Zippo Lighter come to mind. But in the business world, this proliferation of apps is going to turn into a management nightmare. What was borne out in the consumer world (where we’re all our own IT department) won’t fly with enterprise IT. Combine it with all of the new devices and platforms and it should scare you. As a result, we’re going to see business users move away from apps and surge towards HTML-supported platforms. Specifically, HTML5’s arrival can’t come soon enough.

This huge, positive wave of HTML5 front-ends will be complemented by large-scale data warehouses, data historians and analytics on the back-end. After all, today’s smartphones are emerging as high-bandwidth supercomputers with always-on connectivity that can support analytics at our fingertips like we’ve never had before. With web-based applications, users get the nirvana of mobile decision support: the ability to manipulate dynamic, real-time data with an intelligent display of results in context. You also get improved security with much less information stored on devices and the ability to share links instead of data. 

5. Return on Existing Investment (ROEI)

Yes, we’ve both heard it before. Everyone loves ROI, but if you can deliver ROEI – return on existing investments – then you’re really a hero! Especially as the economy remains less than vibrant, this is going to be a continuing theme in 2011 and over the next several years. How can you add value to what you’ve already paid millions of dollars for? Remember that ERP project and associated data warehouse that took years to implement? If a vendor comes in and asks you to build a new “big” thing to manage and maintain you’ll probably give them the finger. We would.

ROEI has always been a core tenant for Visual KPI and that will continue going forward. To be honest, it makes our lives just as easy as it makes yours. As one of our customers recently shared… “We’re cheap. We don’t want to part with a buck unless we get ROI. All we’re doing [with Visual KPI] is leveraging the investment we’ve already made in a [data historian.]” 2011 may be the year to put the best parts of your existing systems in your pocket. We hope so.

We have an exciting 2011 ahead and we wish everyone a great year!

Best,

Robert Hylton

 

Download Transpara’s free guide to the 5 most common mobile BI mistakes and how to avoid them.

Saturday
Nov202010

Securing mobile data is easier - and harder - than you think.

As mobile BI and other enterprise software applications reach your smartphone and other devices, one of the first questions that puts a halt to this wonderful progress is the dreaded…

“…but what about security?”

Even though we have written about mobile security before, and admittedly about our own software, it just keeps coming up.  We aren’t surprised, given how important security is, but we are a bit shocked by “how” our users, prospective customers and others look at this topic.  We thought it made sense to expand a bit further:

What is meant by mobile device security?

The first thing we want to tackle is just how broad this topic can be.  We live this business every day and hear many opinions about smartphone security, but they are all a bit unique.  Here are a few of the ways we get asked:

  • How can we keep our data out of the wrong hands?
  • What if a phone gets stolen or lost?
  • Is the data transmission encrypted? 
  • Wouldn’t a dedicated app be more secure (like an iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android or Windows Phone app)?
  • IT won’t give us permission to access corporate systems except email on our Blackberries.  Can you help us convince them?
  • Many, many others…

Let’s break these down a bit and crush a few myths while we’re at it, shall we?

Most IT departments go to great lengths to control the technical security requirements but often fail to see the biggest potential issue: email.  It’s not that email can’t be secure.  It can.  The problem is that it is the most common way your users interact with sensitive information and the easiest for them to do something damaging, like forwarding information to the wrong person, a competitor or the press.  You can add all of the buzzwords you want (x.509 certificates, 128bit encryption, hardware or software SSL, key fob / time-based authentication, etc.) and still have the exact same issue.  Technology security is critical, but we need to put it in context.

First, there are three types of IT security mechanisms that everyone should be familiar with:

  • Authentication – proving you are who you say you are
  • Rights assignment – once you’ve proven you are legit, this part decides what information you should have access to and what is blocked.
  • Encryption – this determines how secure things are while they are in route to you over the Internet. 

All of these are important, but they won’t secure you from everything.  For example, you can log into your phone with a PIN or password (authentication), access the latest company sales report (rights assignment), and email it to your buddy at the Wall Street Journal over a secure path (encryption), but none of that will stop it from hitting the front page tomorrow.  Remember, encryption only keeps it secure while traveling.  Once decrypted on the other side it is fair game.

No matter how secure your technology is, your users’ actions are still the biggest threat.

So, what are the best ways to keep information from making its way into the wrong hands? 

We spent years on this topic, including understanding it, talking about it, teaching it and most importantly building security into our own mobile monitoring software.  We found some simple things that, while less geeky, are the most effective ways to keep things secure on a mobile device:

  • As little data on the device as possible – in our case, this means showing everything in the phone’s browser.  When the browser is closed, the data is gone.  Very simple and very secure.  Oh, and no you don’t need an app to have a rich experience – smartphone browsers have become very powerful and can be as rich and fast as a dedicated app.
  • Share links to data and never the data itself – when you use the browser, you improve the way people share information.  In our case, you can easily share information right down to the real-time trend your are looking at or the specific alert you received.  It is just as easy as sending an email but with one major difference: you are only sending a link.  You could send this link to the whole world, but only those who are authenticated and have the proper rights assignment can get access to the information.
  • Take advantage of existing security efforts – this means inheriting the permissions, technology and policies that are already in place.  We call it security inheritance and it makes life easy for us and our customers, but it doesn’t matter as long as you get the benefits of secure authentication, rights assignment and encryption.  This also means that we automatically support all of the latest security technologies by default, so answering “does Visual KPI support [insert security buzzword here]?” we can always say yes.
  • Educate your users – there is no better way to assist your security efforts than to educate your users on the risks, benefits and policies concerning security.  If they understand “why” it is so important and “how” they can help, a majority of your issues will be solved.

I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we talk about this topic, but we hope this helps a bit when asked about the latest security buzzword and whether or not we support it.  In fact, we just came across an old whitepaper about our security model that we will refresh and make available to provide even more detail about how it actually works.  Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, download our free guide to the 5 key mobile BI mistakes and how to avoid them for more information on choosing the best strategy.

Friday
Nov052010

How Smartphone Users See Themselves…

We just came across this great comic that does an excellent job of explaining the current world of devices and just how strongly peoples opinions of them are.  We see the same thing with our customers every day.  OK, maybe not to this level, but they still are a passionate bunch and we love it.

Hurray for competition, and it just shows how important it is for applications to support all platforms (if they can do it well).

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