The market for providing simple access to information from mobile devices such as smart phones and PDAs has been growing fast, as more choices and new products seem to be available every month. Last year, I researched and wrote about the emerging importance of Apple’s iPhone for business use (See: “Apple iPhone and New 3Gs is a Healthy Dose of Apple for Business“) across the corporate workforce. Now Actuate, a developer of BIRT, the open source software development environment, has released BIRT Mobile Viewer. The first release of which is a native iPhone application that provides an interactive experience for navigating across information from Actuate’s BIRT iServer or BIRT onDemand, its hosted platform for accessing BIRT-based applications. Actuate makes BIRT Mobile Viewer directly available for download from the Apple iPhone App Store for review, which is what I did. Here is my take on the technology, which has been under development throughout 2009.

Actuate has worked to make sure this iPhone application provides a native experience of its BIRT Mobile Viewer capabilities, for example, autorotation with autosizing, the “shake to home page” and simplicity of drilling into details in charts and tables. Actuate realizes the importance of simplicity, which is shown in the three-step process in which you sign up, download BIRT Mobile Viewer and then upload your BIRT-based information to BIRT onDemand so it can be mobilized. The range of information you can upload using BIRT has grown as Actuate expands its capabilities to a broader information platform that I assessed (See: “Actuate Steps Forward to Power Information Applications”) and that now has expanded even further in the open source BIRT community. Part of this expansion includes BIRT Mashboard, which goes beyond traditional BI dashboards to enable integration of a range of information from across the enterprise and the Internet. BIRT Mashboard facilitates easy assembly of dashboards or applications that can be put together by ordinary business people, data analysts or power users. This information then can be shared to BIRT onDemand and from there into the mobile world of the Apple iPhone.

BIRT onDemand is something new that provides access to Actuate iServer technology in what the company calls a platform as a service. This name is meant to imply that it uses the full power of BIRT that Actuate has perfected over the years in terms of performance, scalability, security and integration, derived from working with largest of financial services and telecommunications companies. BIRT onDemand, currently in beta version, has individual account access for application storage and uses MySQL to operate with Actuate iServer.

This new platform also will be used for Actuate BIRT Exchange and its marketplace of Actuate’s own and community-based applications. The BIRT Marketplace Hub is a great place to see creativity and advancements in tools; and it's also in a range of applications such as Actuate Stimulus Management, Sustainability and Performance Scorecard, which I recently reviewed (See: “Actuate Brings Innovation to Performance Management“). IN addition to consultants and customers sharing applications, BIRT Exchange allows partners such as Integeo, which built on BIRT from Actuate a Map Intelligence application that enables what I call location intelligence. This is but a sampling of relevant, real-world applications needed by those in business.

Actuate has made it easy for existing customers to get started by supporting version 9 or version 10 of Actuate iServer. Users of BIRT and iServer must be careful to create content using the right presentation format in what might be shared on the Apple iPhone, which does not support the Adobe Flash presentation technology. BIRT Mobile Viewer has great potential as Actuate examines how to support other mobile technologies, including RIM BlackBerry, Google Android and Microsoft Windows Mobile. Previously this support was only available through a third party technology partner. Actuate joins the ranks of QlikView, Oracle, SAP BusinessObjects and newer player Roambi by MeLLmo that have made BI capabilities available in the Apple App Store. While Actuate has not yet settled the pricing for BIRT onDemand, I expect it to be cost-effective and focused on large-volume access, which Actuate has long been known for in the industry.

Actuate has stepped forward in innovation and accessibility with BIRT Mobile Viewer and BIRT onDemand, as well as BIRT Mashboard. These developments will provide the company a new growth opportunity within the BIRT community and a marketplace of applications that are freely accessible on the Internet. The upside for Actuate is large as it looks for ways to scale its business upward using the Internet crowds of people who look for simple ways to create and publish information applications to mobile devices like Apple iPhone. This platform will be a place for collaboration, but Actuate can use it to become a critical provider of enterprise-class technology, support and services. I believe that once the Apple iPad is released, executives using it will demand information and a range of business applications that are simple and intuitive; Actuate will be well positioned to support them. It is nice to see Actuate advancing into new business models and technology to provide new opportunities for growth and market penetration.

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