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