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The Increasing Role of Mobile BI

by Lyndsay Wise, President, WiseAnalyticsTuesday, May 24, 2011

As with any software industry, business intelligence has a constant focus on growth.  This involves taking advantage of new technologies or advancements in database performance and analytics capabilities. BI initiatives should “stay ahead of the curve” when it comes to providing customers value and increasing business intelligence availability. Whether it is improved deployment methods, new capabilities, or access to broader information sets, organizations continue to push the boundaries of their BI use through the adoption of new technologies and application of market trends. 

Mobile BI is one area that highlights change in the business intelligence market. With tablets and iPads becoming commonplace, vendors are developing solutions that are supported on mobile devices. Previous mobile BI was almost non-existent, but the advent of tablets has resulted in growing mainstream adoption.

This article looks at the increase of mobile BI adoption, why it is expanding, and how this expansion will affect business intelligence moving forward. In addition, this article also discusses whether organizations should adopt mobile BI (based on their business needs and not based on the desire to have the latest gadgets).

Mobile Device Advancements

A couple of years ago, mobile BI was relegated to a subset of companies using report distribution via cell phones. The advent of iPhones and Androids gave solution providers the challenge of developing and delivering interactive BI applications to cell phone users who required access to analytics on the road. Unfortunately, although much time and R&D spending was put into developing and marketing these applications, actual adoption remained low. Applications were not very practical due to the small amount of screen real estate, resulting in limited interactivity.

The increase in user adoption of the iPad and newer Tablet offerings has changed the value of mobile BI. We have gone from limited screen real estate to a slightly smaller version of a laptop, and business users can now interact with BI in a manner similar to traditional desktop or web-based use. Traveling executives and salespeople can now keep up-to-date with what is happening in their organization all the time.

The ease-of-use and high level of tablet adoption has led to much more mobile BI use, and organizations are looking for ways to deploy their BI applications to end-users in a mobile setting. Since many people want to take their work with them, the ability to deploy BI in a mobile environment is the next logical step.

Reasons for Mobile BI Expansion

The reasons behind strong mobile BI adoption may seem obvious. Now that businesses and decision makers can access their BI tools using a tablet device it would stand to reason they would do so. However, history has shown that the adage “build it and they will come” does not always apply, especially when interactive mobile applications have already been in existence for a few years. To assume that the availability of tablets alone causes increased expansion of mobile business intelligence is naive. In addition to the availability of new technology, other business drivers are required.

iPads and other tablet devices are definitely a component of widespread mobile BI adoption. However, the fact remains that unless organizations are at the point where they are ready to take BI “on the road”, no amount of prompting will lead to widespread mobile BI adoption. This means that the market is now mature enough to take BI with them. 

Many enterprise organizations have achieved multiple iterations of their business intelligence infrastructures and front end applications. Their comfort level with technology and what they hope to achieve from their BI use is quite high. Consequently, the next step involves taking their BI adoption to the next level. Many executives are tied to their laptops and Blackberries, and since many sales, marketing, and customer/partner focused roles require substantial time on the road, limiting access to BI for on-premise use no longer provides the decision making benefits it once did. Organizations now require up to the minute information no matter where they are. In essence, it can be said that mobile BI is fulfilling a newfound business need based on the new diversity of the workplace and taking work on the road. Even though this may have been the case for many years, with social networking, real-time analytics, and lower price points, companies’ adoption of mobile BI is now viable.

Mobile BI Considerations

Now that tablets are widely available, businesses will continue to expand the way they do business. From the vendor side, this means taking mobile BI use to the next level by expanding access, integration and interactivity:

  1. Access - Business decision makers require timely and accurate access to information. Whether in the form of real-time or the ability to submit complex queries and receive results in a timely fashion, overall access will continue to increase in importance. Due to connection and security requirements over WiFi and 3G networks, making sure that proper considerations are made and that end users can get what they need when they need it will continue to be a challenge for BI providers.
  2. Integration - As organizations start to integrate structured, unstructured, internal, and external data sources, the ability to support multiple data types becomes more important. Support for new types of data sources and business applications that may not currently be considered are key to exploiting mobile business intelligence use moving forward.
  3. Interactivity - Many solution providers have been developing their mobile BI
    applications over the last few years. Consequently, some of them are quite robust.  However, as organizations continue to adopt mobile BI and shift towards mobile only platforms, solution providers will have to rise to the challenge by building full BI solutions that can be supported on mobile devices.

Should Organizations Implement Mobile BI?

The question of “going mobile” or not is up to the organization in question. Factors related to BI maturity, comfort with technology, and business justification will remain key reasons behind that decision. However, as mobile devices become more commonplace (both inside and outside of the organization) there will be an increasing expectation of technology solutions that do support mobile BI. This means that although many organizations might not be looking at mobile business intelligence today, they should at least be keeping their eyes open for potential adoption in the near future.

About the Author

Lyndsay Wise is an industry analyst for business intelligence. For over seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay is the channel expert for BI for the Mid-Market at B-eye-Network and conducts research of leading technologies, products and vendors in business intelligence, marketing performance management, master data management, and unstructured data. She can be reached at lwise@wiseanalytics.com. And please visit Lyndsay's blog at myblog.wiseanalytics.com.


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