Consumerization and the Future of Business Intelligence

Register now

I am often asked why the use of business intelligence in organizations isn’t more pervasive. Most companies know that they have a BI adoption problem, but they struggle to come up with a solution to fix it. Every organization can improve BI adoption if its stakeholders had easier access to well-integrated information, and if they analyzed that information to manage performance and make decisions. Certain emerging technologies in the BI space will have a significant impact on increasing user adoption of BI.

Over the last few years, a wave of consumerization  - or perhaps I should say the ”Apple-ization” - of business technology, prompted by people's experience of interacting with Internet-powered technologies and new device form factors, has changed people’s expectations of IT in the workplace forever.

In 2011, BI users want to be able to simply pick up and use the technology — they don't want to read the manual. This places a high degree of importance on the human-computer interaction (HCI) aspects of BI product and deployment design. According to a recent Gartner survey, ”ease of use for end users” is the most important selection criterion when choosing BI tools — overtaking functionality. BI users want fast query responses. Anything longer than the time it takes to return results when clicking on the search button on Google (approximately two-thirds of a second) is too long for most casual users.

Three key factors can discourage the sustained adoption of BI by its intended users:

  • Performance: If users are frustrated by delays in query responses or report production, then they'll likely stop using the BI tool (or they'll use it once each time they need to do some analysis and simply load its output into Excel).
  • Relevance: If the BI platform omits information that users need or does not express content in line with their frame of reference, then they'll stop using it — or, once again, move (and probably add) data into a spreadsheet for "correction."
  • Ease of use: If it's difficult to work with (or sometimes even if it just looks bad), they'll stop using it.

Given these factors, it will perhaps come as little surprise that Gartner is predicting that the growing use of smartphones will impact BI and how users access BI content. In fact, by 2013, 33 percent of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices.
Smartphones will be used mostly for information delivery, as opposed to analysis, except in narrowly defined mobile applications for certain tasks. Early attempts to deliver BI content on the small screens of BlackBerry devices and other mobile phones failed to attract many users, but current adoption rates and the broad availability of current-generation devices, paired with BI vendors' development and marketing efforts, are promising to quickly generate a strong wave of mobile BI users.

Today, the vast majority of enterprises have yet to extend BI to mobile devices. However, the fast proliferation of smartphones with larger screen sizes (such as the iPhone, Android devices and Windows Mobile 7 phones), paired with the expected ubiquity of tablet-size devices (such as the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab), will change that quickly.

The tablets' form factor, touch screen and gesture-driven interactive nature of the user experience are ideal for BI, and the location awareness of mobile devices (through cellular tower location or GPS) can enhance the analytic experience. At first, we predict that mobile BI will largely consist of existing reports and dashboards ported to the mobile device. By 2012, enterprises and vendors will develop mobile analytic applications for specific tasks or domains. Enterprises either will work directly with available storefronts, such as the Apple App Store, or will circumvent third-party infrastructure and leverage enterprise deployment models (e.g., directly through Apple's iTunes) to deliver their custom-developed analytic applications directly to users.

Mobile BI will significantly expand the population of BI users to include a more mainstream audience, and this opportunity will attract significant investment. For example, BI vendors such as Cognos, MicroStrategy, Oracle, Pentaho and QlikTech have already launched extensions to their BI platforms to mobile devices, including smartphones. Roambi enables BI content from various BI platform vendors to run on mobile devices, such as iPhones and iPads. Thus, enterprises using multiple BI tools can deliver a consistent BI user interface to all iPad users.

Our advice to those responsible for expanding BI’s remit is to work with the marketing department and product management to create customer-facing mobile BI applications, and with the supply chain group for supplier applications. They should also investigate using the app stores from smartphone vendors such as Apple, Google and others to distribute mobile BI applications. Recognizing that users will want to use personal mobile devices to access corporate BI data - and that the current BI infrastructure will be expected to support such demand - is incredibly important, as is promoting the use of tablets to improve the BI experience of the mobile workforce.

It is inevitable that managing a portfolio of BI applications will require more effort than is needed for a single platform (for example, in ensuring that metrics are aligned and managed more than just one semantic layer) but the balance of capabilities offered and the relevancy to the business will justify the effort incurred by ensuring a better match to end-user needs, and, thus, a greater return on their investment in BI.

Mr. Bitterer will provide additional analysis around the consumerization of BI at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit taking place May 2-4, 2011 in Los Angeles. For more details, click here.


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.