Starbucks begins BI trial on tablets

Coffee chain wants business intelligence software to run on multiple platforms, not just Apple's iPad

Starbucks has begun a trial of business intelligence software on tablet devices for potential use by its executives making storevisits to help them make view real-time, location-aware data.

Starbucks began a trial of the MicroStrategy 9.2.1 software, announced Wednesday, almost six weeks ago, said Thomas Ball, lead on BI platform development for the coffee chain. The software includes transaction services to help workers quickly initiate BI transactions from a mobile device, MicroStrategy said in a statement.

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Tablet computers such as the iPad are making inroads in all types of businesses, but most often for marketing demonstrations and executive presentations.

Starbucks wants to use tablets for a higher-level purpose: putting current financial and other data directly in the hands of executives and district managers on the scene of Starbucks outlet. Using the BI software, the executives would be connected to data from hundreds of other users.

Starbucks wants to connect the mobile devices directly to its existing MicroStrategy BI software that has been in use at hundreds of stores for two years, Ball explained.

The difference with tablet is that it has GPS and the ability to present data on a particular store quickly to a visiting executive without the tedium of drilling down for data over a laptop.

"Tablets are uniquely suited to B.I. so you can stand there talking in a store and have the latest info or a report without having to try to open a laptop," Ball said.

Even though MicroStrategy has hundreds of iPads deployed to its own workers, Starbucks isn't wedded to using iPads only and will test other devices to be able to create BI capabilities on more than one platform.

"The idea is to create a Starbucks model to leverage many devices and have as little as possible of being tied into one," he said. "The iPad is obviously hot today, but HP's device might be hot tomorrow."

As sophisticated as Starbucks has been in supporting computing systems for its stores, Ball said the chain would never have attempted to develop a cross-platform BI tablet app on its own. One reason is that security for mobile devices is paramount, he said.

MicroStrategy said it brings security to the mobile BI experience for iPhone and iPad such as AES encryption on data in transit from the mobile service to the MicroStrategy mobile client. Also, administrators can set apps to be confidential, so that users must log in when opening the app or after a period of inactivity.

Ball said he isn't prepared to discuss what the mobile BI project will cost Starbucks or when it might be officially rolled out.

"Employees have been asking for [tablets], but the challenge is to weave that desire into your corporate infrastructure," Ball said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Starbucks begins BI trial on tablets" was originally published by Computerworld.

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