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February 9, 2012

Q&A with Ali Shirnia, VP and GM of Roambi EMEA

CBR catches up with the EMEA boss of data visualisation company Roambi to talk about Apple, BI, and data quality

By Vinod

Ali Shirnia, Roambi

Can we get a bit of background on the company?
Our CEO Santiago Becerra created the Xcelsius software, which was a great success. He sold it to BusinessObjects, which was later sold to SAP. That was the end of the adventure, around 2007/2008. Then Apple announced the iPhone. He got one of the first ones and thought: "Oh my goodness." He saw the potential of the devices and started building the software right there.

In 2010 we went to the market with our software and since then have got 8 of the top ten pharmaceutical companies as customers, along with financial institutions and carriers. The traction has all been driven by iPad adoption in the enterprise. But we’re not exclusively on Apple, we run on BlackBerry as well.

What we do is really simple. Our proposition to the customer is: "Don’t touch the back-end." You don’t need to, whatever back-end you have and have spent millions on, the issue you have is consumption of the reports. They are ugly, they are tabular, you cannot see them and distribute them to enough users. Gartner said that only 20% of people that could be using BI reports are doing do. So you use Roambi to convert those same reports into really fantastic visualisations.

We don’t have a BI stack, we don’t conflict with what has already been implemented. We help sweat the assets you already have. There is no processing done. You have a server that sits on a corporate network and connects to the portal of the BI platform, so all of the user authentication/security is handled by the BI platform. It converts the reports into Roambi modules and puts them back on the portal. So when users come in they pass straight to the BI platform.

What gap in the market do you think you’re filling?
If you look at BI platforms, often they have a mobile module of some kind. The challenge they have is that the module is tied up to the BI stack and most of our customers have many sources of data, there isn’t just one single BI stack – they’ll have Cognos, MicroStrategy, QlikView and so on. They have to figure out a way of bringing that data together. If you want to provide a mobile application per BI stack that becomes really confusing for the user.

We bring a way to utilise current platforms and provide that information to the user in an immersive and useful way and increase the consumption of that data. We provide the data that already exists in a really engaging way.

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One of the arguments against data visualisation is that the more important thing is getting the right information to the right people. Do you take any interest in the quality of the data you visualise?
This is purely data visualisation. If you think that you need to work on the quality of data, that’s fine. Perfection is hard to attain with data quality. We have partners and system integrators that are BI experts. We don’t just dump the software on the user; our partners work on data quality for the customers and use our software as the protection layer while changes are made.

If your platform is pulling data from the BI stack to create the visualisations, how quickly are updates available to your software?
If a worker is on salesforce.com for example and decides to update something they have to do that through the mobile interface; we don’t do transactions. In terms of how long it takes it depends; the latency is depending on the reporting policy. If you ask for a report it goes through the Roambi server to the BI platform, the BI platform runs the report and sends the data back to the user. So it really depends on the way the reporting structure works, whether it’s instantaneous or run overnight batches.

You said that you run on BlackBerry as well as iOS. What about Android?
We’re tracking Android and Windows Phone and they are part of our roadmap.

What’s the timeframe for Android and Windows Phone?
I don’t know. We’re driven by our customer’s demands so as soon as the demand is there we can accelerate it. We know our customers are testing them but right now the iPad is such a huge portion of the market that we’re concentrating on that.

So is it available on the BlackBerry PlayBook as well?
No. Have you seen the sales figures for the PlayBook? We follow our customers; if they buy it we can do it.

Have you thought about something for a laptop or netbook?
We do have a browser-based application as well, so we can mix it up. But with a browser you’ve got to drive it with the mouse. Our customers tell us that 80% of the time when they’re on the road they are using the iPad; it’s only if the app is not available that they use the laptop.

Are you profitable at the moment?
We’re private so we don’t disclose that publically but we’re very well funded and are very successful when it comes to client and customer acquisition.

What about an IPO? Is that on the roadmap?
We have a very strong partner [Sequoia Capital] who is very strong in developing and growing companies and that’s the reason we went with them. The addressable space is mobility, it’s Apple and BlackBerry in the enterprise and the number of competitors in the same space is very small. Mobility is the top strategy of every CIO. The reason visualisation now makes sense is because technology is there to support it.

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