We all love a good simplification story. Take a complex idea and make it so simple it works well in any business context. Apple is good at this.

Ad: iForm Reporting with Google Docs

The vast majority of small businesses are clearly on the iPad bandwagon now and they’re looking for simple ways to enhance operational processes and tasks. One of the challenges they face is developing apps for their shiny new iPads. XCode is a big hill to climb even for seasoned IT organizations. And in many cases, a useful mobile solution requires some degree of integration.

How do small companies take meaningful steps to refactor their businesses in the wake of the post-PC revolution?

Small Business Intelligence (sBI), a theme I’ve written about previously, is a good place to start because it typically has elements of data capture, integration, and data visualization involved. It also represents a key advantage for business people who are frequently working in a mobile context and who have begun to depend on iPad as their primary computing device.
Data Capture
I’ve found that the simplest way to create a form for iPad and capture data is iFormBuilder. This service (which isn’t free but is certainly reasonable) is simple to setup and extremely useful for deploying iOS apps (iPhone and iPad). Captured data is pushed into iForm’s cloud service and from there, you can download data in spreadsheet formats, extract it by a simple XML feed, or access the data through a mature API. If you’re not an iOS developer or lack resources to build custom apps, iForm is an ideal starting point.
Integration
Small businesses are always trying to stretch IT budgets and Google Docs is an ideal way to do that. I recommend it in many consulting engagements not so much because of price (it’s free), but because it can serve as a poor-person’s middle tier. You can easily import iForm XML feeds and use every-day spreadsheet formulas to manicure the data.  Best of all, most data visualizations tools connect directly with Google Docs as data sources for BI widgets.
Data Visualization and Reporting
I use Klipfolio a lot. But I also like other products such as Geckoboard and DucksBoard. And Google Docs even includes a collection of data visualization tools that are free but not so polished. Whatever your preference, each of these tools can integrate with Google Docs data, although, the integration approaches will vary. Klipfolio, for example, provides preconfigured data source templates for Google Docs spreadsheets; a few clicks and ready to go.
Dive In Today
If you have systems and processes that involve gathering, manipulating, and displaying results, don’t hesitate. None of these services will break the bank, and they’re easy to shape into hardened and valuable solutions. And your time spent with these products will not be wasted.
Start quickly …
  1. Download the iForm app and set up your account. Build a simple form that has some relevance to your mobile business activities.
  2. Import some iForm data into a Google Docs spreadsheet.
  3. Set up a demo account in Klipfolio and connect it to your Google Docs spreadsheet, then create your first data visualization.