Thursday, February 14, 2013
How Roambi Is Making Mobile Work For The Enterprise, with Quinton Alsbury
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad have completely revolutionized how consumers interact with the online world in the past few years. However, mobile devices have not only revolutionized the world of the consumer--they've also made inroads into the corporate market, changing how companies provide access to important information and data to their partners and employees. One of the first companies to see the potential for a mobile application specifically targeted at the enterprise was Roambi (www.roambi.com), which is based in Solana Beach. We caught up with Quinton Alsbury, president and co-founder of the company, to learn more about what Roambi is doing for enterprises, and where it's going.
For those not familiar with Roambi, can you tell us about the product?
Quinton Alsbury: Roambi is more or less redefining the way the world interacts with data, particularly in the context of mobile devices. We founded the company in 2008, inspired by and around the first iPhone. We realized that what Apple had done, was introduce a completely new way of interacting with computing devices, using touch, a rich, animated UI, and the size of the screen. We realized that everything that people had been doing on a computer for the last twenty or thirty years needed to be re-thought and redesigned.
My partner and I had spent the previous ten to fifteen years in data visualization, as it related to business data and numerical data. We had been talking about data visualization as we saw the iPHone come out, and got excited and couldn't help seeing the possibilities of what you could do there. So, we set out to do that, and after a year and a half developed the first version of our product. We now have over 400 customers of our product, and a good majority of the Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 using it to put a completely new face on their important data, and using it to get that out into the hands of their employees.
How do customers use your product?
Quinton Alsbury: The way the application is designed is fairly agnostic to any particular vertical or operation inside a company. The visualizations themselves are designed around data navigation, and the generic concepts and analytics processes that we know people are doing inside companies. The product is used in the field, and a common use case is in the context of where a salesperson is communicating data to people they're visiting, such as a retailer, or a pharmacy, or a store where they're talking with the manager. For example, they might be talking with a manager about how much a product is selling there versus other stores.
We've created a compelling way to communicate that data to the manager at 7-11, wh ois not a data analyst--but is powerful enough to use all the way up to the CEO, to track the metrics of the business. That data can come from an existing business intelligence system, like SAP, Oracle, IBM, or Salesforce.com. Or, it can come directly out of a database. We're pretty agnostic to what kind of data and where that data is coming from. The use cases range from sales enablement to human resources, to executive reporting. There's also completely new use cases, where companies are looking at what iPads can do for some segment of their workforce, if they had the right data.
What was it about your app that provided the update with customers, and convinced those companies to adopt the product early?
Quinton Alsbury: One of the surprising things to us, which is you wouldn't think that launching a new startup, on a very new technology platform at the time, the iPhone, would get you the biggest companies in the world. But, that's exactly what happened. I think it was both the convergence of the iPhone driving lots of interest in the market, and companies asking--what can we do with mobile, now that there's a true technology platform out there we can empower? Before, they had BlackBerries and smartphones, but you couldn't do much beyond email. There was a convergence of the device, and companies asking the question what could we enable, if we just had the right software tool. We were one of the first mobile business applications, and I think that took us straight in the door.
How do you structure this, as you're obviously not selling this as a 99 cent download in the App store?
Quinton Alsbury: The model is tiered out in a couple of different ways. The application in the app store is a free download. It's a client application, which you can download and interact with information on the device. What we charge for, in the context of an enterprise customer, is the server software that has direct interaction with their existing systems, with the Oracles, SAPs, and databases, which allows them to extract that data, and publish those visualizations, manage users, and curate the content. That's what we charge for, using a per-user subscription fee. They actually deploy that on premise, and pay for a subscription. We also have a software-as-a-service model, where there's a lighter, simplified version of the product, which is just for individual users or small businesses. That lets them take an Excel spreadsheet or Google spreadsheet, or maybe some Salesforce data, and use the application for that. That's obviously a subscription cost as well, with no software to deploy.
You started in the age of the iPhone. How has the iPad changed your business?
Quinton Alsbury: It has had a fascinating impact. First, starting at the foundation, in terms of device deployment, we sell an iOS application at the end of the day, so companies who have iOS can make a lot of use out if it. When the first iPhone came out, companies were very hesitant to buy iPhones operationally. Instead, employees were buying them as a consumer. It became BYOD--Bring Your Own Device--where companies realized that they couldn't control what phones employees have, but could support them in making sure they could get to email and directories on their devices, regardless of what device. So, the iPhone came into the enterprise the back way. We didn't see companies buying huge amounts of iPhones for employees. The iPad is very different. Instead, the way it is making inroads into the business world, is it's purchased more like a traditional piece of hardware by the company. They look at it as an operational tool, replacing a user's laptop, where they're trying to empower a new use case by giving certain sets of employees iPads. In terms of volume, I think we're now seeing licenses for the iPad at a ratio of three-to-one, if not four-to-one to the iPhone. And, in terms of organization deployment, we see that the iPad is much more widely deployed by companies to employees than iPhones are.
How has the rise of Android affected what you do, and what are you doing there?Quinton Alsbury: There's no denying the rise of Android and prevalence of it in the consumer market, for lots of the reasons we talked about. But, it really hasn't made the deep inroads--at least in North America and the EMEA, for the most part, that iOS has. I have a couple of theories on that. One, is that there's a very similar thing with Android int terms of BYOD policies. They're supporting employees with Android phones, with company email, directories, and that sort of thing. Companies realize that the phone is a very personal piece of technology. So, they're letting employees buy them, and making them work. But, the way that tablets are approached is fundamentally different. And, Android tablets are not seeing any inroads at this point. We haven't seen it, and our customers always ask if we have an Android version, we ask if they have Android devices, and they say no--thought they might sometime in the future. I think it's such a new, younger ecosystem compared to iOS, which is based on OS 10 and where they've already made enterprise enhancements. Android is just much younger and unknown, in terms of security and all those other things companies think about, before they purchase and deploy any technology widespread. I thought that maybe Windows had the opportunity in the enterprise with Surface and other devices, just because companies are comfortable with Microsoft and had been dealing with them for thirty years, but it looks like they still need to deliver a transcendant hit to have a huge impact on this market, which I don't know if they've accomplished with surface.
What's the next thing you are looking at?
Quinton Alsbury: In general, we are continuing to focus on taking data, visualizing it, and making it a rich, visual experience. Obviously, we want to continue to elaborate on that, and help develop new methodology and new analytic processes we can support. That's kind of the baseline. But, we are willing to extend beyond, and figure out what you can do with that data when it's visualized. How do you socialize it, communicate it, operate off of it, and have it in a consumable form. We actually recently launched a secondary app, Roambi Flow, which is a publishing app for creating interactive iPad magazines. You can embed visualizations inside the magazine, alongside editorial analysis. Visualization is great, but to make it more accessible to more people, you need editorial analysis and human content. The metaphor is if you took the Wall Street Journal, and ripped off the editorial and just game them a bunch of tables, charts, and infographics, you'd most likely lose a better portion of their subscription base. The editorial analysis and human content alongside it makes it a much more, digestable package of information for their readership. Flow is designed to facilitate that, and combine visual represtation and editorial and visual content, to give more context and make that more digestable to a wider audience.