Business Intelligence is Going Mobile

Monday Nov 28th 2011 by Ann All
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In a new report, Howard Dresner says the future is mobile business intelligence, collaboration and the cloud.

Though early efforts at mobile business intelligence faltered, the trend has taken off in the last year. Dresner Advisory Services just published its third report on the topic since mid-2010. Ann All discussed the findings of the report with the firm's founder and president, Howard Dresner, who says his research shows mobile business intelligence is a global trend that crosses all geographies, industries and organization sizes.

All: The market for mobile business intelligence appears to be maturing rapidly. Is the reality finally starting to catch up with the considerable hype?
Dresner: The difference from, say, five years ago is there really is a demand side of the market. Organizations are now stepping back and saying, "How do we want to do this?" Going out and buying iPads is a relatively easy thing to do and so is using applications that come with it. But business intelligence requires more forethought.

You can do most of the things from a consumption standpoint that you did before. But it makes sense to do some redesign work, as opposed to taking what was done on the desktop and simply putting it on a tablet. This may even require speaking to the end users – heaven forbid – and asking them what they need.

All: The improved interfaces, especially tablets, and the consumerization of IT trend appear to be driving adoption of mobile business intelligence. What are some other drivers?
Dresner: The coolness factor has helped tremendously. Mobile has cachet and is considered cool. But mobile devices differ from PCs in that they are very right brain. Tablets just make sense. Once the C-level executives use them and see the value of having information literally following them, they want everyone else to have them as well. You have fewer ROI and TCO discussions because they intuitively understand the value. 

All: I recently interviewed Barney Finucane about the Business Application Research Center's 10th edition of its BI Survey and he told me he sees two groups of mobile business intelligence users: people who already use business intelligence and will just transfer it to mobile devices, and those who will find entirely new uses for it. Are organizations beginning to change how they use mobile business intelligence?
Dresner: Right now mobile BI is predominantly a consumption vehicle. We're starting to move away from that, toward more of a consumption and navigation paradigm. Eventually it will also encompass creation.

I'm beginning to see what I'd call lightweight authoring. The primary authoring environments will remain on desktops for the foreseeable future. But at some point I think we'll have all the functionality on mobile devices. I believe they are displacing other devices for some classes of users already. Not for the authors. But over time, who is an author? As we march toward self-service, more folks will become authors. With all the investment in mobile, those devices will increasingly be useful authoring environments.

All: According to the report, vendors are doing a good job at providing the features users want. But I know you also found some disconnects. What are they?
Dresner: The number one feature users of mobile business intelligence want is alerting. That speaks to some of the differences between desktop and mobile business intelligence. Alerts and KPI monitoring both score really high, probably due to the smaller screen real estate. Those are also both really popular with executives. And executives are the No. 1 candidates for mobile business intelligence.

Vendors are doing a good job supporting viewing charts and KPI monitoring. But they have been slower than expected to introduce alerts. They've made progress since last year, but it's surprising to me there is still such a gulf. If you believe the vendors, collectively, support for alerts will improve within 6 months and in 12 months everyone will offer alerting functionality.

All: Are the applications becoming more sophisticated?
Dresner: The applications are moving along. We're seeing more platform support. We're seeing more multi-touch interfaces. Vendors are working with the interfaces as opposed to displaying purely HTML. Integration with location is coming to the fore now. I had a conversation with a vendor that is building location intelligence right into the next version of its software. So as a supervisor of a petrochemical plant moves around, the information changes.

All: That seems to be one of those new use cases we mentioned before. They seem to require combining business intelligence with other technologies such as location intelligence and real time data analysis. Are you beginning to see more of that?
Dresner: There's lots of value in keeping executives abreast of what is going on. But when you move into operations, driving it down through middle and line management, that's where you start to see a real payback. It may be more tactical in nature. But when you take relatively minor things and multiply it by, for instance, the number of stores in a retail environment, it's quite significant.

One retail chain gave iPads to all its store managers. Being able to correct a problem with a single SKU in a single store may not seem really interesting, but if you multiply that by a thousand it starts to turn into real money. Adding geographic intelligence gives you the ability to catch the right opportunity at the right time, and that also will have a significant impact.

Page 2: Mobile BI, Collaboration and the Cloud Are the Future

Ann All is a contributor to Enterprise Apps Today and also blogs for IT Business Edge.

All: So the addition of those kinds of technologies will help drive mobile business intelligence forward. What else might help advance it?
Dresner: Collaborative capabilities I think will be important. Depending on the industry, transactional integration can be significant. Again, retail is the top vertical. No one in retail sits at a desk. So if I am out on the floor and can scan a SKU and say, "I want to order more of these" or move them from one store to another, that could get quite interesting. So you'd have to tie these applications into ERP systems and CRM systems.

The three big trends moving forward, I think, will be mobile business intelligence, collaborative capabilities and cloud. They all complement each other. If I'm going to collaborate, it makes sense to do that on a device that is always with me. Right now the vendors are pushing it more than the users are adopting it. It's a more efficient approach than email. Collaborative technologies tend to be associated with a particular set of activities or particular project. So you automatically get the context, all of the information and people you need are there in the business intelligence environment, and it makes us more productive.

All: You see no signs of mobile business intelligence slowing down?
Dresner: I asked about exclusive mobile business intelligence use, and you see growth in the numbers of folks who believe a significant percentage of users will only use business intelligence through a mobile device. Yes, 35 percent said it would be under 10 percent. But 5 percent said it would be 61 to 80 percent of users and 10 percent said 41 to 60 percent. So you've got almost 20 percent who think the number of folks using BI exclusively through a mobile device is going to be north of 40 percent.

That says to me there is a movement underway. I think sales and marketing and executives are already there. IT and finance have plans, although they are not nearly as bullish as the execs or sales and marketing.

This is a global phenomenon. It crosses all industries and all sizes of organizations. It's a foregone conclusion we're going mobile. People will use mobile devices the way we use laptops today. People graduating from school now use technology differently than we do.

All: Is IT seen as slow in supporting mobile business intelligence?
Dresner: IT have a different mindset. They have to consider the existing investment, and all of the privacy and security issues associated with the information. That's one of the biggest sticking points for IT, and for finance as well. You've got many, many more devices out there, and sometimes they get misplaced and compromised.

I've heard there is an active market for spammers. They pay a premium for phones left in a taxicab. The drivers deliver it to them without a battery. Then they pull the data, put the battery back in and allow the device's data to get wiped. So IT thinks it hasn't been compromised. Then they take the emails and other information and sell it. So there are some very real issues around security.

All: There's a lot of discussion around native vs. browser-based applications. How do you see that playing out? Will HTML5 improvements render it a moot issue at some point?
Dresner: Right. I think at some point it becomes moot. Increasingly we see vendors offering the downloaded application, which is nothing more than a stub to an HTML5 application. I think what the users want is a dynamic, interactive experience, something very visual in nature. They don't want a Safari experience. Having said that, you can render in HTML 5, using the browser. As long as users can go to an app store or market and download an application, and as long as it behaves like a native application, they don't care if it's HTML5.

There are certain industries where a browser application is mandatory, such as healthcare, financial services and government. Nothing will be resident on the devices in those industries, for obvious reasons.

The vendors are looking to develop it once. But they'll have to do a little extra work for the foreseeable future, because they'll have to work with certain purchase and usage behaviors. The demand currently is for native apps, especially for the iOS and Android platforms. For the time being, vendors who do not accommodate this are going to get left behind.

HTML5 still has to grow up a bit. It clearly has the local storage capabilities and the offline capabilities users want, but I think we need to get more mileage on it before we can declare it the standard. There is a lot of energy and investment being applied to it. I think it'll move more quickly than other standards have in the past.

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