Mobile Business Intelligence on Verge of Breakthrough

Ann All
Slide Show

Real Questions for BI Vendors

Click through to see the questions Ann discovered that can make a tangible difference in your diligence.


Wow, a lot has changed since I wrote a post titled Do Users Really Want BI and CRM on the Go in 2008. Some things, like vendors' interest in offering mobile business intelligence applications, have remained the same. But most of the factors I cited as impediments to mobile BI are no longer hurdles.


Why would anyone want to look at lots of data on mobile devices with tiny screens, limited storage, memory and computing power, I asked in my post. With phones getting smarter and smarter, no one should find themselves in that position anymore.


And Apple's iPad certainly renders those limitations moot. IT Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard recently spoke with Mark LaRow, VP of products for BI software provider Microstrategy, which supports both the iPhone and the iPad. LaRow told Vizard the iPad's intuitive interface eliminates the need to train users on how to use it and gives them the screen real estate they need to mash up data any way they want.


Earlier this month, Vizard also spotlighted a software-as-a-service BI application from Birst that can be accessed via the iPhone, the BlackBerry, Google Android smartphones and other mobile computing devices. A benefit of this approach, said Birst CEO Brad Peters, is that it eliminates the need to use PCs to remotely access BI apps that need to be synchronized with an application on the PC. With smartphones, users can directly access the application over wireless networks.


Still, one of the issues raised in my 2008 post niggles at me. While cloud computing and in-memory data structures make it possible to remotely perform some fairly sophisticated BI tasks, will anyone want to? Maybe not. As Vizard notes, Birst's application is geared toward the BI needs of "average" business executives rather than business analysts that use on-premise BI software from companies such as SAP, IBM and SAS Institute.


That mostly means looking at dashboards and reports rather than actually creating them. As Curt Monash writes on DBMS2, "mobile BI seems to be about small, portable dashboards," with folks using them mostly to access data in a timely manner rather than to make crucial business decisions.


The examples he offers: getting information about prospects right before a sales call or checking on a customer's order status during a sales call; checking a logistics or maintenance issue such as airline (re)scheduling, truck/warehouse dispatching or medical procedure availability; and comparing benchmarks such as customer purchases or machine uptime when you are at a location where such data is highly relevant.


Mobile BI, writes Monash, is "pretty straightforward stuff" for now, with little need for more sophisticated analytic capabilities.


It's worth a click-through to a Computerworld article Monash references in his post. It offers examples of BI apps being used by several companies, most of which seem to fall squarely into the "information access" category. Salespeople at biotechnology tool maker Life Technologies, for example, use Mellmo's Roambi data visualization app to view sales quotas and daily sales reports on their BlackBerries and iPhones.


There's real value in making BI data more accessible to more people within an organization. And that's what mobile BI does. There's little question it's growing. According to the Computerworld article, surveys administered by Aberdeen Group showed a 6 percent increase in the number of companies using mobile BI apps over the past two years. (Granted, that doesn't sound like much, but consider this increase took place during a nasty recession.)


The article mentions a slew of apps offered by all the BI biggies -- IBM, SAP, SAS Institute, etc. -- and a bunch of startups as well. As Monash writes, the author "cites just about every vendor except Microstrategy as seeing or indeed pushing this trend - and that probably just means Microstrategy didn't return his call quickly enough, as they're betting heavily on the mobile BI trend themselves." One of the executives interviewed in the piece predicts smartphones will replace laptops for most mobile workers in the next decade -- which will create a need for more apps designed for those devices.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 22, 2010 7:02 PM Sonny Hashmi Sonny Hashmi  says:

Interesting perspective.  We have recently released a first of its kind detailed budget and financial data transparency business intelligence tool on our transparency dashboard (cfoinfo.dc.gov).  The app utilizes the Roambi architecture and app for the iPhone/iPad/iPod devices.  interactive and drill through and good visualization.  So far, it contains over 20 financial data feeds. 

We are getting great feedback, from citizens and advocacy groups that need government budget information, spending plans and data on the go.  We will be happy to share our data model/architecture/design with anyone interested.

Check out the online dashboard and the iPhone app at cfoinfo.dc.gov

Jul 27, 2010 12:10 PM Lindsey Harmon Lindsey Harmon  says:

Great post, Ann.  I really like your ideas about BI apps for mobile devices.  We have a community for IM professionals (www.openmethodology.org) that discusses related topics and we have bookmarked this post for our users.  Looking forward to reading more of your work and sharing with our community.

Nov 3, 2010 5:31 PM Nits Nits  says: in response to Sonny Hashmi

Hi, great article Ann... if you have more real life case studies or best practices from the companies that has already went mobile in BI please share.

@Sonny: can you please share some more information about your mobile BI and if possible share the architecture, server setup , cost, project timeline etc if you can at my email nits.nahta@gmail.com


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