BI Hits the Road II

In my previous blog post BI Hits the Road, I briefly discussed the new adoption of mobile business intelligence (BI) offerings and featured some important vendors in this space. Here I’ll continue the discussion into mobile BI space expansion, and cover of some of the features, considerations, and challenges in the utilization of mobile BI solutions.

Though mobile technology is not new, the adoption of mobile solutions for BI has not proceeded at a pace comparable to other types of software solutions. However, several factors have been instrumental in spearheading the adoption of mobile BI technology:

•    increase in the number of mobile corporate users
•    advances in browsing technologies and products, extending the reach of mobile devices
•    extensive adoption of mobile devices with touch-screen features and ease of operation

As a result, vendors have gained interest in expanding the use of mobile devices, enabling end users to not only perform specific operations more efficiently, but also use newly developed data analysis tools to support decision-making processes.

This growing interest for mobile BI options has culminated in two main types of offerings and vendors:

•    new vendors offering specific mobile BI offerings that can be accommodated under a pre-existing BI solution—e.g., Transpara, RoamBI
•    existing BI vendors offering new mobile BI capabilities, extending the reach of their BI products—e.g., MicroStrategy, QlikVew, TIBCO Spotfire

Of course, even in the time taken to write this piece, new mobile BI features and products have seen the light, providing users with more options from which to choose.

So, What to Consider when Selecting a Mobile BI solution?
Many factors have to be considered when choosing the right mobile BI strategy or platform for your organization. Some of these are as follows:

•    How the mobile BI platform will fit with your organization’s needs
•    How the mobile BI platform can integrate with your pre-existing BI platform
•    How the mobile BI platform can integrate with your pre-existing mobile platform
•    How to calculate the total cost of ownership (TOC) of the new mobile platform and the return of investment (ROI) of applying this type of technology

What Can We Get?
From a BI perspective, we have to consider what a mobile BI solution can add to the table compared with core BI applications. Of course, mobility enables the organization to distribute BI services to users working outside the office. Users will be able to connect permanently to the BI application and extract information from the data repository core, regardless of their location, potentially increasing the agility of the decision-making process, How? Some of the main functionalities that can take advantage of this mobility are listed here:

•    Reporting and dashboards. Reports and dashboards, particularly those designed for mobile devices, can be distributed to and published directly in the user’s mobile device, empowering the user with the ability to analyze information right in the spot.
•    Performance monitoring and real-time BI capabilities. These capabilities can be enhanced by notifying users on the state of the business at any given moment by following a key performance indicator (KPI) and/or scorecard directly through the mobile device in real time.
•    Alerting and messaging. Alerts and messages can be distributed to notify users of unexpected events, reinforcing users’ control and ability to respond promptly to emerging situations.
•    Collaboration. This functionality can be enhanced by enabling capabilities, such as writing messages or comments, on graphs and dashboards.

These and many other capabilities might be worth considering when adopting a mobile BI solution for your organization. As the mobile BI space has not yet matured, we may see important product developments and improvements in functionality in the upcoming years.

Being Thin or Thick?
From a technical standpoint, a crucial factor to consider is the type of deployment for your mobile BI solution. Despite the fast pace in the evolution of this technology, we can consider to main types of mobile BI deployments: thin client–based and thick client–based.

Having a thin client–based mobile BI solution ensures that the all mobile applications will be delivered using the Web or other technologies. This means that the information will be sent to the mobile device via a browser—i.e., the application will reside on the server—while all processing will be done on the server. Furthermore, no additional expenses will be incurred in accommodating to the new infrastructure. However, the mobile device doesn’t have much processing power—a potential limiting feature for those users who need analytics power on their mobile device while being remotely disconnected from the server.

On the other hand, having a thick client–based mobile BI solution requires installation of the application on the mobile device, enabling communication and interaction between the mobile BI server and the mobile user. Although additional infrastructure costs may be incurred, the user has more control over the display of information on the mobile device—a feature that may enhance communication using the device.

Still, in the integration of mobile BI solutions into the business software mainstream, two major challenges must be overcome:

1.    Security. As with other technologies, mobile BI solutions will have to overcome technical issues as well as concerns on the security of the data during the mobile BI process—i.e., in the transportation of data from the server to the mobile device, reinforcing the confidence of decision makers in using sensitive information on their mobile devices for analysis and decision-making purposes.
2.     Content. The effective delivery of content over several types of mobile devices is needed to ensure transmission of the necessary data in a visually-appealing format, thus enabling key individuals to gain insights into the business.

Finally, I'd like to think we haven’t yet seen the full potential of mobile BI solutions and the real value they can bring to an organization. It will be some time before we’ll start thinking of mobile BI solutions for every BI deployment, but I think the future will see a fast-growing pace of mobile BI deployments. In the next blog post in this series, we’ll take a look at some of the vendor offerings in the mobile BI space, so stay tuned. . .
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