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Mobile Business Intelligence In The Cloud

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Monday, June 14, 2010

While cloud computing was perhaps the most discussed concept in enterprise computing over the last year, I had hoped to see more thought leadership on how the next generation of business intelligence (BI) applications will utilize the cloud model.  Of special interest is how mobile BI applications will benefit from the new cloud paradigm.

As on-the-go knowledge becomes more and more important to business enterprises, service-based architectures centered fully in the cloud (Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IasS)) will drive BI strategy by default.  But questions abound:  Will the BI applications themselves live completely in the cloud?  Will BI data exist in the cloud?  Can a BI cloud model be truly simple and secure at the same time?  Will the promised cost savings really materialize?

On the surface, freeing up some expensive enterprise computing infrastructure in favor of leveraging the vast infrastructure of a Google, Amazon or Microsoft seems attractive for IT managers that are burdened with escalating costs for computing resources.  Still, the thought of relinquishing a large degree of control of their infrastructure in favor of a vendor’s service-based model is justifiably frightening.  Concerns of visibility will exist in abundance.  (Just as one is not able to peer through a cloud in the sky, virtual computing clouds are no more transparent.)  Relatively speaking, cloud computing is in its infancy and has not matured greatly; however, I still think it is fair to say that providers of cloud solutions could be doing a better job of assuaging the fears of infrastructure managers concerning overall issues of control, governance, risk, security and transparency.

One thing is for sure: developers of mobile and handheld wireless applications will start to leverage cloud computing in large numbers.  They will have no choice.  The cloud paradigm gives them the ability to efficiently work around the challenges associated with divergent mobile handset models and corresponding software and platform configurations: There will be far more opportunities to make improvements in cross-platform functionality if operating system constraints are essentially removed.  Other constraints can be overcome through the cloud as well; for example, the ability to circumvent the limited memory capabilities and the lack of overall processing clout in mobile devices, as well as mechanisms to deal with the notoriously sluggish bandwidth of today’s mobile devices.  Mobile BI applications can have their fundamental processing chores concentrated at the server layer as opposed to the mobile device itself. This can’t help but result in much improved application performance.

The mood should be bullish when it comes to the merging of cloud computing with mobile BI.  Consider these factors:

  • With the cloud model, more and more mobile productivity applications have their data stored in the cloud. This contrasts mightily with the current state of affairs, where data is often stored on the device itself.
  • Application processing can take place on the cloud, reducing the limitations associated with BI applications being tightly coupled to mobile hardware.
  • A more robust model of collaboration can emerge with cloud-powered BI applications.  Sharing of schedules, reports, databases, multimedia files, and voice data will occur across operating systems and hardware platforms.  Information workers will worry less about interoperability and bloated mobile clients, in the same way that client-server began to liberate business computing in the early 1990s, or the application service provider model (ASP) did in the late 1990s.
  • Right now, many mobile applications remain carrier-centric.  For example, you may not have access to the portfolio of BlackBerry applications if your smartphone is an iPhone.  Applications that run in the cloud will alleviate this issue to a great extent and provide many more choices for mobile consumers.  The need to develop a mobile BI application for multiple operating systems, creating many versions of the same application, will dissipate.
  • Bleeding-edge programming languages such as HTML 5 will ensure that the future of mobile BI is more open, reducing the need for proprietary (and plug-in-based) rich internet application (RIA) packages like Adobe Flash and Microsoft’s new Silverlight technology.  One cool thing is that HTML 5 will allow for data caching on the handset, allowing mobile devices users to keep working through service interruptions and wireless signal failures.
  • Browser navigation of the internet and/or mobile application screens is poised to improve exponentially.  Better browsing capabilities (speeded by the arrival of HTML 5) will be a key driver of Web 3.0, allowing for better communication with application servers, regardless of where they are situated within an enterprise network or cloud configuration.  Remote BI applications will be better able to consume and communicate with a larger concentration of web services.

Conclusion

Since its early days, cloud computing has lived up to its hype.  Various forecasts project the number of mobile cloud computing users will number more than one billion in a few short years.  Already we are seeing Amazon Web Services (AWS) used by more than half a million developers.  For the most part, the future infrastructure of mobile BI is here now, ready to overcome obstacles of interoperability and performance in order to fully support the next generation of smartphones and remote digital devices.  With network services, data services and storage services strategically supporting remotely capable intelligence, IT managers will have access to custom provisioning models that can adjust dynamically to business needs on a monthly, daily, hourly or minute-to-minute basis.  Nevertheless, there are unique factors that must be taken into account when merging the mobile and cloud worlds, e.g., the overall scalability of a cloud-enabled mobile BI solution may be initially limited by factors such as the reliability and robustness of mobile networks.

Also, will legacy wireless networks be able to handle leaps in demand as more and more users materialize?  And will everybody in the BI lifecycle feel that their data is secure, not only in the cloud, but on handset devices?  Look for much more prognostication in the very near future on cloud computing as it relates to mobile BI.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices�across all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide. As Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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