External-Facing BI Apps: Customize Your App for a Global Audience

Vaibhav FatingApril 24, 2015

In today’s global business world, plenty of companies have customers and partners scattered across three or more continents and dozens of countries. They conduct business at all hours, in many currencies and languages, and in ways that accommodate broad cultural needs.

Though sometimes overlooked, accommodating users from various parts of the world is critical in our line of work: business intelligence (BI) application development. It’s all the more critical when the application isn’t just for an internal audience (like your employees) but also for outside audiences like your customers and partners. Broad, external users have varying BI skills and expect a smooth, unintimidating experience. If they don’t get it, they stop using the application, and the time and money you spent creating it are for naught.

But adding custom features to adapt your application to a broad, global audience isn’t easy and can be incredibly time-consuming. Developers call this process internationalization — or “i18n” for short. Why is i18n a key component of external-facing BI app development? What makes it so complex, and what time-saving solutions can help?

Why i18n matters

i18n features enable BI applications to be used efficiently and effectively by target audiences across multiple geographic regions and time zones. To achieve this goal, applications need to be adapted to various languages so that users (particularly users made up of outside audiences) can make proper selections and navigate their way through the app without getting frustrated and giving up. Even for audiences who can read multiple languages, presenting the analysis in a user-defined language leads to enhanced understanding, an improved user experience, and faster overall adoption of the BI application.

The challenge of i18n in external-facing BI applications

Making existing BI apps adaptable to audiences from various parts of the world isn’t easy. The challenges are many. They include:

  • Enabling i18n for first-time developers of BI apps. Configuring a BI app for i18n is an integral yet complex process. In many ways, building in translations changes the nature of the development methodology, which has to be totally conceived before the project begins.
  • Addressing change requests due to a change in translations. If the process isn’t automated with a “bulk translations wizard,” then addressing change requests due to a change in translations becomes painful and time-consuming. It will require single byte and double byte languages.
  • Automating the metadata translation process with incremental i18n development. Automating the translation process is tedious and challenging because of the many prerequisites. A very limited number of databases are supported as translation repositories.
  • Database readiness and support for data. Data-level i18n is achieved in two ways: through connection mapping or structured query language (SQL). With the technology stack and architecture already defined, it’s challenging to create i18n data due to limitations with the infrastructure or technology. Depending on the available database options, it is important to choose a type and data model design that can implement i18n.
How to get around the challenges

Automated tools can streamline the process of optimizing your external-facing BI application for i18n. We’ve customized a number of BI apps for i18n and recommend these two time-saving strategies:

  • Utilize bulk translation for metadata translation, which allows you to address change requests, single/double byte language translations, conduct bulk translations via the automated translation wizard, and ultimately decrease the complexity of your development efforts and the time it takes to achieve them.
  • Take advantage of translation repositories, which make bulk translation and maintenance over a period of time quick and easy. Realize that BI tools support few databases as translation repositories (including Oracle, SQL Server, Teradata, and others), so examine the pros and cons of your options and select the best-suited repository to meet the i18n needs of your app and its end users.

As we’ve discussed several times on this blog, your external-facing BI application won’t do much good if your users can’t access it. i18n is a critical step in making your app work for a broad user base. It really can’t be overlooked.

To learn more about customizing your BI application for outside audiences, listen to a replay or our webinar, “Customizing the MicroStrategy Experience to Deliver External BI Applications.”