March 7, 2011 - Business intelligence and mobile devices can work together and are ready for the marketplace, according to Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson, but a few caveats are in order to ensure the greatest success.

Evelson's new study, "A Practical How-To Approach to Mobile BI” is separate from a mobility report released last week by other Forrester analysts, though it covers some of the same ground. Evelson says the topic of BI mobility and BI applications had drawn little attention in the last two years, mostly from vendors looking to build products, but that the horizon and value of mobility is coming into focus.

Evelson attributes some user resistance to the form factor of smartphones, which has only recently been offset by the greater real estate of iPads and other devices.

Also, it's still not easy to justify tangible top-line benefits and ROI with a BI mobility project as such a project calls for.

Evelson says security, especially the case of lost personal devices, remains a concern, though other analysts have pointed out this is not unlike the case once made against laptop computers, CDs and flash drives.

Those concerns are now better understood and at least partially addressed. Most plainly, Evelson says the larger screen size provided by iPads and other handheld devices will "revolutionize" BI applications.

"Within two to three years, tablets will probably start eclipsing laptops for this kind of work," the analyst says. "Once you work with the new tablets you find they are useful for pretty much everything, except editing documents and maybe a couple other things. There's no big reason a traveling executive or consultant or salesperson would need anything more than a tablet device."  

Forrester recently found that between 27 percent and 32 percent of respondents (depending on size) have or plan to implement business applications on tablets.

"Add to these numbers the 41 percent to 45 percent who describe themselves as interested but no specific plans," Evelson notes, "and we find a much broader current and potential target audience."

Use cases for mobile BI support include improved customer and partner engagement; BI delivered at the right place and time; enablement for workers without traditional access to BI applications; and query relevance that takes into account geospatial and scanning capabilities.

Evelson says all the leading BI vendors have introduced mobile BI applications, architectures and delivery options. The four common deployment options are pushing content to mobile devices via alert; accessing BI applications through a Web browser; accessing dynamic BI applications through rich interactive media; and platform-specific mobile device client applications.

Forrester says options very much vary by provider, and device capability, such as the scanning and rendering of formats such as Flash or HTML5, can also present a barrier to particular device usage.

Among the general and detailed advice in the report, Forrester recommends first making sure that all the dependent foundational components of BI are already in place; picking metrics and dashboards with form factor of mobile devices in mind; and avoiding vendor lock-in to a specific platform or technology.

More information on the report can be found here.