Out of the box, Project Server 2010 is arguably the most business intelligence heavy application that Microsoft build on the SharePoint platform. It’s a bold statement, but when you think about it, a default installation of Project Server will implement a dedicated relational reporting database and provides the capability for numerous analysis services instances, each containing up to 14 OLAP cubes, all configurable from within the tool.
With the reliance on SharePoint 2010 Enterprise, a number of new and improved capabilities are made available, including PerformancePoint Services & Visio Services which provide new and improved ways of visualising project data to quickly expose trends and possible issues so they can be corrected. Unfortunately whilst the story is fantastic if you are using a PC, it’s a little less impressive if you are using a true mobile device such as a phone. Whilst people may have laptops, wireless and mobile broadband, starting up a laptop & connecting is way less convenient than quickly viewing your data on a mobile device, pretty much instantly.
So I started to wonder what the options were for mobile business intelligence, specifically how could I see the status of my project portfolio, risks, issues & financial information directly from my mobile phone? As my personal phone is an iPhone I started by checking out the various options, including Roambi & PushBI. Both looked pretty good on paper, but either required you to buy licences, were not real time or required you to install propriety software on your farm / servers.
Then thanks to a twitter from JJTotal, I was directed to an application called Blue-Granite Nitro. Nitro is a free Windows Phone 7 app that renders XML feeds of information and produces some very impressive visualisations of data using the WP7 metro interface for rendering.
In order to generate the XML feeds that Nitro uses, all that is required is a SQL Server Reporting Services instance running one report. So as Project Server requires SQL Server, this should be readily available. Being based on Reporting Services, developing the report is incredibly simple, either through Visual Studio, or my preferred report tool, Report Builder v3.0. The reporting services instance needs to be exposed externally and set to allow basic authentication which may cause some network admin headaches. The Nitro application itself then just needs to be set up to connect to the reporting services instance where it will run the report, generate the feed and render the dashboards in real time.
The Blue Granite web site provides a full breakdown of the structure required by the application and a number of run throughs and demo’s. But of course, I thought I would have a go myself wiring up some data in the Project Server Reporting database and OLAP cubes, and whilst I was at it, why not film it
So here are my attempts, best viewed in HD, the first one is a run through of how to create a feed from scratch and then render it in Nitro.
The second one shows a slightly more advanced scenario with some different visualisations and connecting to both relational and cube based data.
On reflection, building the report up was incredibly simple, you just need a bit of knowledge of the Project Server Reporting DB schema and what’s available in the cubes (which is documented in the Project 2010 SDK available from here). Where information is not available from these sources, such as extended risk, issue or SharePoint list data, additional tools such as the iPMO data miner or SLAM could be leveraged to make copies for reporting purposes without directly querying the contentdb. As you saw in the video configuring the Nitro app itself was just as easy.
Of course this solution is not just limited to Project Server data, any information you have stored in SQL and could report on using Reporting Services can be queried and rendered through Nitro on a Windows Phone 7. Given the price point, the ease of configuration and the fact it leverages your in place technology without the need to install any new servers / software, why wouldn’t you install it and start to empower your organisation today?
Finally, as I don’t have a Windows Phone 7 of my own to play with (I will gladly accept any donations though ), I would like to thank Glenn Wilson for lending me his HTC Mozart to build the screencast.