The idea of mobile business intelligence wasn't born with the emergence of smartphones. It has been around for many years, but not until recently has mobile BI become a buzzword. And BI vendors are now focused on bringing mobile BI products to market.

So what is mobile BI? Speaking broadly, mobile BI provides end users with the capability to access data and make informed decisions on the go. Being away from laptops or offices should no longer restrict executives’ ability to access critical data, and they should not have to rely on months or weeks-old numbers embedded in emails or presentation reports.

Mobile BI is about providing BI on any technology not restricted in use at any place and at any time. Platforms for this include smartphones, iPads and tablets. But mobile BI is not just about providing access to data irrespective of place and time. It’s a methodology: a design and strategy to make sure that critical data is available in a real-time and secured manner.

Many BI vendors have already come up with mobile BI products; it’s easier to sell the idea of mobile BI deployment to customers nowadays than it was a couple of years ago. Here are some key questions to consider to help avoid the many pitfalls in mobile BI investment:

Is there a need?

BI vendors are effectively marketing their mobile BI products and showing the need. However, not every customer is a good fit for this product. So, It is worth analyzing whether or not the organization has gained the level of maturity required to go mobile in making critical decisions. To sell the idea of mobile BI to organizations still struggling to streamline their data integration processes is far fetched and will not be effective. For example, for BI solutions to be effective across an enterprise, a single version of truth is the first requirement. Also, organizations still in the process of standardizing master data are not ready to take the leap to being mobile in BI.

Mobile BI is not just an offshoot of BI. Although the underlying purpose of providing the means to make informed decisions is the same, the objectives could be different depending on who is looking at that data. So just having an enterprise BI solution is not enough to be able to derive the mobile BI requirements (though the existence of a BI environment would certainly help).

What are you looking for?

Equally important is understanding what kind of data needs to be made available to the consumers of the product. It is often hard for customers to define exactly what they are looking for and what is most important. The list tends to include all kinds of data elements that do not add value while missing reporting parameters. In either case, the objective of providing meaningful analytical information is not met.

A good starting point may be to look at the existing BI metrics and have discussions with the customers to understand the key metrics that they regularly look at. Keep in mind that the executives at different levels of management will be looking for different metrics and will also be looking at them differently. Some typical end-user categories include:

  • Senior management: interested in real-time organizational key performance indicators; ability to access data anytime and anywhere; and make decisions on the go.
  • Sales executives: interested in customer analytics; proactive sales alerts; real-time customer data; and sales performance reporting.
  • Service executives: interested in real-time service alerts and customer data.

Set aside sufficient time to understand business needs from the perspective of a mobile BI solution and not an enterprise BI solution, since a mobile BI solution should not just replicate the enterprise BI solution.

What are the prototype possibilities?

Nothing helps more than being able to show a sample of the end product. If you think about it, consumers often buy based on samples, from food to clothes to computers. Most products from any company first come with test launches. Therefore, before the decision to make this big investment in a mobile BI solution, sampling a prototype of the solution can help both the customer and provider better understand the need and how it can be best fulfilled.

What are the security considerations and risks?

Each advancement in IT is bundled with a new security risk. On one hand, mobile BI is all about empowerment of the executives and end users with knowledge when needed. On the other hand, it puts this knowledge at a security risk if security is not handled properly. One of the most crucial aspects of designing a mobile BI solution is to completely understand the security requirements and how they will be met with the solution. Customers should be totally involved in these discussions, as they need to understand and decide what data will be going across the security of their firewall.

Which one is right for me?

If the need for mobile BI is established in an organization, the next vital consideration is the product for setting up the solution, as this has a direct impact on cost. Does it make sense to buy the available mobile BI products or build one in-house, or is that a costly way of reinventing the wheel? In most organizations, taking the step to mobile BI will already have some BI product in use, so the cost-effective choice would be to explore mobile BI products available from the same vendor. Organizations looking for a new BI vendor can put the mobile BI features on their list of requests for proposal. To start this process, organizations should map some of their key requirements with the features of the product under consideration, like needed security features, technological compatibility and ease of use.

How might mobile BI evolve?

Investment in mobile BI is not a one-time investment. Instead, it is an evolving process. Dynamics of the market change frequently, so, analysis of one particular metric may be crucial today, but may not be equally critical tomorrow. A mobile BI solution should be built with both scalability and maintenance in mind, with the mindset that there is always room for improvement.

With these factors in mind, organizations can start reaping the benefits of mobile BI and the resulting improvements in access to information: improved competitive advantage, higher employee productivity, better customer satisfaction and more informed strategic decisions.

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