For weeks I have been busily transcribing and writing up interviews for this year's edition of our magazine's latest 25 Top Information Manager program, and this year's nominees may be even more fascinating than last year's. (If you don't know what I'm referring to, have a quick look at last year's program.)

In the process of interviewing dozens of senior architects and data executives (at companies you know by name), we ask identical questions about tech trends and emerging end user themes. Based on what they are telling me, I am finally convinced that the mainstreaming of mobility is looming large on the horizon for data managers and BI users.

Yes, you have been reading about this elsewhere. Boris Evelson at Forrester, Howard Dresner and his former employer Gartner Inc. have all proclaimed the rise of mobility users based on new research, especially with the new form factor of the iPad. My mailbox is more full than ever with vendor pitches.

But so many of the real-world execs I am talking to are personally mentioning incipient demand for take-it-to-work iPad or other tablet users (with no prompting from me) that it feels like we've touched a real nerve. I feel this especially since I've been looking for BI mobility user stories for years and they never met the bar until recently.

Now I'm hearing of familiar deployment patterns, starting with portable dashboards for executives on the go, and quickly to regional sales managers and supply chain VPs.

I'm not going to spill the beans ahead of our big article coming out next month, but I spoke to a clothing retailer who has built apps for fashion buyers and tied them into pictures, sales trends and inventories. The operator of a huge chain of auto and truck stops is displaying their measures of clerk-level sales prowess and rewarding that at the store level.

Anecdotally, it just feels like the keyboard/mouse paradigm is slipping for much of the work not tied to heavy data entry like this blog (sorry iPhone, let's be Twitter friends).

For information consumers, it's not only the form factor of the iPad and tablets or the mobility driving app creation. Folks tell me it's the very methodology in the design documents from Apple that is consumerizing the consumption of business information. It's a facile approach to visual design, hiding the consoles, clunky interfaces and the branding of BI software behind simple intuitive usability. When is the last time you heard a data manager say their field workers were having fun consuming sales data?

When iPads first started popping up at conferences and events about a year ago I made a point of asking folks I met on the road how they were using them. At the time, it was tempting to write a story about faddish culture, and joke about where the network cable plugged in (not that Apple wanted my opinion).

That was a whole year ago. Some of my executive interviews are now wondering what the tablet vendors and networks are doing with the data-rich profile they have on all of our uploads and downloads, the apps we're building and our providers, locations etc.

It feels like a year is getting shorter all the time.

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