ENTERPRISES of all sizes are embracing smart phones and tablet PCs as business tools, making it possible for employees to view and interact with company data in a more revolutionary way. Analysts at Gartner believe that 33% of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices by 2013, while a recent survey by Dresner Advisory Services (DAS) confirmed that the mainstreaming of mobile BI is well underway.
Published in mid-2010, the DAS survey found that nearly a third of respondents intended to augment (or abandon) current BI vendors in support of mobile BI over the next two years, with RIM’s BlackBerry remaining the top priority, followed by Apple’s iPhone and iPad, and then Windows Mobile and Google Android. Fast and pervasive access, flexibility and better decisions were cited as the major drivers, while security, form factor and data volumes presented the biggest barriers.
According to DAS, executives were the top priority for receiving mobile BI, followed by middle managers, board directors, line management and then individual contributors. The top three mobile BI requirements were ‘viewing’, ‘alerting’ and ‘KPI monitoring’, followed by ‘data selection filtering’ and ‘drill down navigation’. Adoption trends also varied according to the size and viability of the organisation. The smallest of organisations were found to be the most agile and able to absorb new initiatives with relative ease, while larger organisations had larger budgets and more resources to enable change.
A mobile presentation layer
Mobile BI describes the provision of core Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to smart devices. It enables the delivery of existing reporting data held in back-office IT systems to be delivered to mobile devices. The mobile BI applications available today have been designed to add a ‘visualisation front end’ – or ‘presentation layer’ – to an existing system. They can be integrated with some of the most popular BI suites on the market. They also enable users to read information from sources that are not ‘pure BI’.
The more sophisticated mobile BI solutions available also allow critical business reports and data visualisations to be created on a secure platform behind the user organisation’s firewall. To ensure security, information is encrypted before being transmitted over the air.
Tap, turn and swipe to consume
While there are no ‘hard and fast rules’ to delivering mobile BI, the key is to avoid trying to replicate the desktop environment and also to recognise that browser-based solutions tend to be more convenient for developers than for users. Businesses should be looking for ‘native apps’ – i.e. software that has been developed specifically for use on a particular platform or device – that can instantly respond to user requests for information.
Given the relative immaturity of the mobile BI market, software vendors tend to target just one or two platforms. Mellmo’s Roambi (www.roambi.com) is a solution created for Apple’s iPhone and iPad and makes company reports and data quick to access and easy to interact with using immersive dashboard-style analytics. Interactive features such as data search and filtering, drill down navigation and guided analysis enables users to more readily spot trends and less likely to miss important insights.
Users can tap, turn and swipe to display, share and analyse company information provided in the form of accurate reports. Reports can also be cached to smart devices for offline viewing and updated reports fetched when online. Key sales metrics can be made available with the graphical interface allowing users to drill down by current year to date, last year to date, monthly sales, region and product category. They can compare profit margins and detect sales trends and guide purchasing and inventory decisions.
In addition, data can be drawn from a variety of external sources – such as analyst reports, media scoring and brand equity providers, or even social media – and then combined with internal information and KPIs to provide users with fast, accurate and insightful data that is easy to interpret and digest.
Intelligence at your fingertips
Despite the fact that firms are still struggling to identify an objective business case for mobile BI, many recognise the need to target the right information to the right user at the right time.
Organisations across diverse industries including telecoms, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, consumer technology and packaged goods, are now using mobile BI to expand the reach of their existing business reporting systems. One global firm in the fast moving consumer goods sector is implementing Roambi for example, to deliver core KPIs to its top 100 global executives.
Meanwhile, a major US-based biotechnology-tools maker now uses a mobile BI app and iPads to deliver sales data in the form of interactive graphs to its sales team, which helps them to make sense of large volumes of sales and customer data while on the road.
Mobile BI is also agile. Data sources can quickly be altered to meet changing needs at a departmental or role-specific level and graphical formats re-configured to enable any worker to create and share all types of information and empower users with decision-making on the go. With an increasing number of employees bringing their own laptops, smart phones and tablet PCs into work, more firms are looking to mobile BI to realise a differentiated advantage.
Richard Savery LOC Consulting
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