This past year I've been in a few debates regarding the necessity of Mobile BI. In most cases with BIDW professionals who don't believe the need is great enough to justify the effort. I'd like to share why I think Mobile BI will be one of the big BI initiatives over the next few years.
Before we get into the argument let's talk about what Mobile BI is and what it is not. Mobile BI is about pervasiveness of business information. The mission is the same as traditional BI. We're still talking about offering our customers business information that drives decisions. The only difference is we want to enable them to access business information at their convenience in the palm of their hand. In other words, Mobile BI is a supplement to a traditional BI offering.
Now let's look at common arguments against Mobile BI from BI practitioners at different organizations:
There are not a lot of business users asking for Mobile BI.
Business users consistently carry their laptops in a business setting therefore they don't need BI on mobile devices.
Which devices and operating systems should a BI team support?
All valid concerns. However, I feel like Mobile BI has the opportunity to impact BI programs in a very big way.
Argument 1: There are not a lot of business users asking for Mobile BI.
The fact that many business users aren't asking for Mobile BI is a huge opportunity for BI teams. BI adoption rates have hovered around 20% for as long as I've been in BIDW. A recent survey by Cindy Howson of BI Scorecard [i] revealed BI adoption rates of 39% for companies who have adopted Mobile BI. Admittedly the number of early adopters is low, but this is a great sign for BI teams looking to drive BI adoption.
Argument 2: Business users consistently carry their laptops in a business setting therefore they don't need BI on mobile devices.
Pervasive business information doesn't have to be viewed in just meetings. Day-to-day activities like commuting, shopping, or waiting in a queue offer down time. It is inconvenient to carry a laptop during these types of activities. Pulling your smartphone out of your pocket to learn more about your business can help users maximize their time and make more informed business decisions.
Argument 3: Which devices and operating systems should a BI team support?
Unfortunately the best answer to this question is… it depends. Many BI vendors offer native apps on multiple operating systems. Others offer BI functionality through mobile browsers using HTML 5. Some offer both. When you start a Mobile BI initiative make sure you make a conscious decision which devices and operating systems you will support. Make this clear to your customers and your stakeholders, then choose a vendor accordingly. Don't feel obligated to stick with your current BI tool for your Mobile BI initiative. There are many vendors (both traditional and niche) in the Mobile BI space that offer high functioning low maintenance Mobile BI solutions, for the right price. I've worked with a number of BI products over the years and I believe one vendor will not meet every need of most organizations. Every vendor has its strengths and weaknesses. Limiting yourself to one BI tool limits your solution offering and hurts BI adoption. Pick the best tool in the toolbox for the task at hand.
One thing no one can deny is the additional opportunities you get with Mobile BI. Taking advantage of mobile device functionality like a camera or GPS creates new BI capabilities. Being able to scan a barcode or generate analytics based on one's geographic location aren't common in traditional BI. These types of solutions are now easily attainable with Mobile BI.
Serving actionable data quickly requires understanding your customers and their needs. A BI team needs to break down its product offering into categories that better serve its use cases. Some examples of use cases are:
Management dashboards – High-level dashboards that drive management decisions.
Mobile workforce – Mobile workers like doctors, salesmen, or factory floor workers who aren't often behind a desk need actionable data quickly.
Organizations with a well-established Business Intelligence/Data Warehousing program are well suited for management dashboards. Developing dashboards for mobile devices requires mobile content optimization. Picking both the right type and the right amount of data is critical to driving knowledge. KPIs are ideal.
A mobile workforce is your on-the-go employees who can take advantage of BI while in the field. Unlike management dashboards, the mobile workforce requires more operational type of data. BI teams may need to take advantage of mobile features such as GPS location aware and bar code reading to better serve its mobile workforce. Mobile workers need to see granular data like patient, customer, or supply chain data that is updated frequently. This use case puts BI teams to the test.
People spend more time on mobile devices than they do watching TV[ii]. Help them make productive use of that time by deploying a Mobile BI solution.