Momentum Continues to Grow for Mobile Business Intelligence

Ann All
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Six Questions You Need to Ask Before Deploying Business Intelligence

Make sure you provide the right BI capabilities to the right people.

For years now, business intelligence vendors have been talking about making BI accessible to employees throughout companies and not just senior executives, based on the idea that BI is more effective the closer it gets to the operational front lines. Up until now, however, that's remained more wishful thinking than anything else.

 

Two BI experts I interviewed in the past month believe business intelligence is going more mainstream, thanks largely to the increased presence of mobile devices at many companies. When I spoke with Barney Finucane, author of the 10th edition of the BI Survey, an annual research report produced by the Business Application Research Center, he told me that while just 8 percent of organizations are using mobile BI today, 30 percent of them plan to use it within 12 months.

 

Finucane said he sees two clear potential user groups for mobile BI: folks who already use BI and want to access it on mobile devices and workers who don't use BI now but would benefit from it. The latter group is likely to adopt mobile BI more quickly than the first group because they'll find more compelling use cases for it, he said:

... Mobile can change BI and offer new opportunities. ... You have guys walking around warehouses or factory floors who need to make fast decisions. There are lots of those kinds of opportunities.

Given the nature of those opportunities, Finucane said mobile BI is more effective when coupled with technologies like real-time analytics:

... Both things are about immediacy. Real time analytics is about getting the data right now, and mobile is about seeing the data right now. So they complement each other.


Howard Dresner, founder and president of Dresner Advisory Services, which recently published its third report on mobile BI since mid-2010, mentioned the same kinds of new opportunities as Finucane. When I spoke with him, Dresner told me:

... There's lots of value in keeping executives abreast of what is going on. But when you move into operations, driving it down through middle and line management, that's where you start to see a real payback. It may be more tactical in nature. But when you take relatively minor things and multiply it by, for instance, the number of stores in a retail environment, it's quite significant.

He offered the specific example of a retail chain that gave iPads outfitted with BI applications to all of its store managers. While the ability to correct a problem with a single SKU in a single store may not seem especially "sexy," it can generate a strong return on investment in fairly quick order.

 

Like Finucane, Dresner said he thinks mobile BI will be especially effective when combined with complementary tools and technologies. He tapped geographic location, collaborative capabilities and transactional integration as among the applications with the most potential. The retail industry will be a key vertical, he said, since so few workers are deskbound.

 

The trend shows real momentum, noted Dresner, pointing to growth in the numbers of folks who believe a significant percentage of workers will interact with BI apps only via mobile devices. While 35 percent of respondents to Dresner's survey said that number would be under 10 percent, 5 percent said it would be 61 to 80 percent of users and 10 percent said 41 to 60 percent.

 

While BI vendors are doing a good job of offering charts and KPI monitoring on mobile devices, Dresner said they've been slower to offer alerting, the number-one feature desired by mobile BI users. To me, this indicates vendors may not yet have a good grasp of how mobile BI can enable the kinds of opportunities mentioned by both Dresner and Finucane.

 

The good news is, vendors seem to be coming around, making more of an effort to adapt their applications to mobile interfaces, Dresner said. And alerts are on the way:

... If you believe the vendors, collectively, support for alerts will improve within 6 months and in 12 months everyone will offer alerting functionality.


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