As the pace of business continues to increase, organizations have mobilized their workforce to keep up. To help on-the-go workers make faster and better decisions, access to business data within the firewall is critical. Mobile business intelligence addresses that need by extending BI functionality from the desktop to mobile devices.
Smartphones are uniquely equipped to put interactive reports and dashboards in the palm of the mobile worker’s hand. This functionality allows companies to improve the return on their existing smartphone investment while taking advantage of new information access and delivery innovations such as collaboration through social networks including Twitter and Facebook.
The release of popular devices such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad, the BlackBerry and Android has given the enterprise new technology that puts information into the hands of key decision-makers. These devices have been widely adopted by consumer and business users alike and, according to Ventana Research, are now a preferred method for many business professionals to consume information, according to a separate report from Gartner. Applications fueling these devices are also on the rise showing great potential for the display of BI data on mobile devices.
Mobile BI is not simply BI on a mobile device. BI challenges remain while new ones arise through mobile BI enablement.
- Data quality: The impact of bad data is apparent sooner in a mobile environment.
- Data latency: Expectations change with the age of key data. Users expect more real-time data given instant mobile access.
- Report lifecycle management: Every aspect of the BI content lifecycle - creation, ratification, distribution, search, use and retire – will be impacted by adding a mobile device, in addition to new considerations such as content type and data points, presentation styles, real-time reporting expectations and search functions.
- Security: Lost devices and data security must be addressed.
- Scalability: Mobile BI brings user growth, larger number of reports, and elevated user performance expectations.
The User Experience
The critical measure of success of a mobile BI implementation is the effectiveness of the user experience, much of which will be determined by the data offered on the mobile device and how it is displayed. There are three key areas that directly affect user experience:
- Metric considerations: Trend data; numeric or percentage comparisons; number of dimensions; cardinality; breadth of data; user interaction with the data such as sequencing, drilling, categorizing and filtering.
- Data visualization considerations: Graphs, charts, overlays, alternate views.
- Form factor limitations: Device variances in form size and shape; formatting data and graphics that can be legibly displayed.
Choices regarding user experience should be based on what data points will result in the best decisions and how to make the application easy to navigate. Furthermore, views should be intuitive and take advantage of touchscreen technology allowing finger gestures (such as tapping, squeezing or swiping through content) to enhance the experience and maximize the impact of mobile BI.
Mobile BI Vendors
The competitive landscape in the mobile BI environment is rapidly growing. Emerging technology is rising from two types of vendors: those creating new mobile BI platforms that publish data from a variety of sources as interactive visualizations to the mobile device, and those adding new mobile user interfaces to their existing BI solutions. Organizations should carefully examine their current environment before choosing a solution, as it will impact several areas: infrastructure, implementation, architecture and design, security, reporting and visualization.
Existing BI Vendors with Mobile BI Add-Ons
Add-ons to existing BI implementations tend to be available at a lower purchase price than more pristine mobile BI solutions. Implementation is often simpler, faster and less costly as well because it is simply an extension of an existing tool. Incumbent BI tools fit easier into existing design because the core technology is the same and they rely on the security inherent to the underlying platform. Reporting can also be easier, albeit simpler, because the mobile device is another avenue to present existing reports and dashboards from the core BI system. The major reporting effort lies in the conversion to the new form factor.
However, there are limitations to mobile BI add-on solutions. Many vendors are limited to which devices they support, so the BI solution must support the same device that the organization has chosen as their supported platform. Furthermore, add-on solutions offer relatively more basic visualization and reporting options consisting mostly of an extension of features already available on the desktop. Extending beyond those limits (if possible) results in additional time, effort and cost for customization. Because of the importance of visualization and reporting, it is important to make sure the value of this type of implementation is not diminished due to these restrictions.
Pristine Mobile BI Vendors
If no embedded BI solution exists, it may be easier and faster to choose a more natural mobile BI vendor versus implementing an entirely new BI stack. This option often offers the most flexibility as the solution can be customized to achieve specific information needs irrespective of back-end technology limitations and mobile device availability within the organization. Many pristine mobile BI solutions offer a richer visualization feature set designed specifically for mobile devices and the ability to prepare custom reports based on detailed business requirements. For example, while an add-on may display a bar graph comparing quarterly sales by territory, a natural mobile BI solution might give users the ability to touch one of those bars to see a detailed list of each sale that was sold in that quarter.
Implementation of these solutions can be more time-consuming and expensive than an add-on component depending on the complexity of the requirements and how much integration is required with existing systems. New platforms also require more stringent design efforts due to additional time needed for planning, design, architecture board reviews and testing, as is typical when new technology is introduced.
As the number of on-the-go workers continues to rise, enterprises are turning to mobile technology to create a more productive mobile workforce. Mobile BI is appealing because of the widespread usage of smartphones. These popular devices provide a vehicle that business users are not only willing and excited to use, but they also have the functionality to present interactive mobile dashboards and enable on-the-go analysis to help enterprises keep up with the ever-intensifying pace of business. However, before you decide on the mobile BI technology, it is important to consider current BI technologies available in the company, demand for mobile BI implementation in the near and long term, as well as the visualization and interactivity required so that the best mobile BI technology is chosen.
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