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BI professionals and analysts agree: Mobile BI increasingly important, or do they…
27 Mar, 2012 - Lachlan James


BI professionals and analysts agree: Mobile BI increasingly important

Are you shocked? It’s understandable. According to a recent poll on LinkedIn Group, Business Intelligence Professionals, Mobile Business Intelligence (BI) is an increasingly critical aspect of modern BI tools. In response to the questions, “How important is mobility in today’s BI environment?”, 76 percent of members said that companies either “can’t compete without it” or that “it’s a helpful tool”. Sixteen percent agreed it was vital and that organizations “can’t do business without it”.

Astonishingly, this means that BI professionals – those actively working in the field and implementing solutions for their organizations (or on behalf of clients) – agree with the recent sentiment espoused by industry analyst firms Gartner, Dresner Advisory Services, IDC, Forrester, Aberdeen, Ventana, TDWI and co.

Many practitioners complain that the ‘predictions’ of analyst firms are often rear-window (see our blog post Gartner’s Business Intelligence ‘predictions’ are rear-window), or that their views are too closely connected to the hip-pocket of monolithic BI vendors, and are therefore tainted.

BI expert, Brian Livaich, suggested that while many practitioners in the recent poll did not consider Mobile BI to be absolutely critical at present, that would change in the future: “Mobile BI is very important today, and that’s the reason why so many BI vendors are now offering the functionality. Tomorrow, Mobile BI will be vital.”

Henric Cronstrom agreed, and echoed the recent suggestion by Mobile BI expert, Howard Dresner, that Mobile BI is set to become the new platform for reporting and analytics.

“How important mobility is in today’s BI is an interesting question – but not as interesting as how important it will be tomorrow,” said Cronstrom. “The change from laptops to pads using touch screens is going extremely fast, so the BI of tomorrow must have clients that are made to run on these devices. Vendors that cannot deliver this will have problems selling. Further, the concept ‘Mobile BI’ will disappear: It will just be ‘BI’ - the mobility will be taken for granted.”


Mobile BI: What’s the big deal?

However, as mentioned, many practicing BI experts often discount many of the trends and predictions from leading industry analysts and their associated firms.

Principal Architectural Specialist at CSC Consulting in Washington, Philo Janus, was particularly scathing of the widespread view that Mobile BI represents a transformational step in the consumption and dissemination of reporting and analytics and resultant decision-making.

“It’s one of those requirements that’s high priority, but which probably won’t get used,” said Janus. “Honestly, it really doesn’t make sense – Business Intelligence is supposed to be about strategy, and who’s making strategic decisions ad-hoc working on their phone?”

Curiously, Janus then seems to contradict himself, noting that there should be “more focus is on exception notification and action. When a metric goes out of scope, notify the responsible individuals and give them options for reacting”. Isn’t that essentially what Mobile BI is, Janus?

Paul Burke, a Product Manager working for a New Zealand based retailer, echoed Janus’ thoughts on mobile analytics: “BI tools are still predominantly the domain of the head office analysts who are tethered to desktops.”

Again, in a seemingly contradictory follow-on statement, Burke states that: “With a trend towards the democratization of BI and the creation of plain-English actionable insights, mobile delivery will become increasingly important. In a retail context, the greatest potential user volumes are in the roles of front line retail staff and supplier representatives. In the case of retail staff, it is vital that they spend their time on the shop floor and not the back office. For suppliers with tight call schedules, mobility is a given.”

So, what’s the argument here? That access to Mobile BI is essential, but only for some? If so, this seems like a digestible and agreeable position; but, one that few have ever argued against.

Burke’s initial disagreement with the importance of mobile analytics remains somewhat perplexing, especially considering findings and comments from renowned Mobile BI expert, industry analyst and researcher, Howard Dresner.


Dresner on Mobile BI

Dresner’s latest Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study – a research report analyzing global BI trends and comparing leading vendor capabilities – found retail to be the number one vertical for Mobile BI.

Speaking at the official Webcast launch of his updated Mobile Business Intelligence Market Study in 2011, again, Dresner found strong growth and demand for Mobile BI, specifically in the retail industry.

Dresner said the report indicated that, from a vertical perspective, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers were the three current biggest users of Mobile BI: “But I would say the number one vertical for Mobile Business Intelligence right now would be retail,” said Dresner.

“We are in the midst of a profound shift, a paradigm shift, in favor of Mobile Business Intelligence, and things will never fundamentally be the same again.

“The majority of [representatives of] industries [that participated in the survey] found Mobile Business Intelligence critically important or very important.”

The benchmark report confirmed recent industry research, suggesting that the BI and Mobile BI markets are growing rapidly, as businesses across all industries realize the potential benefits.

“The research suggests that Mobile Business Intelligence now applies to a range of industries and users,” said Dresner.

“I had been thinking in my mind that the typical user was a road warrior – someone who spends a lot of time away from the office, that is, great distances away from the office.

“Conversations [with survey participants] suggest that Mobile Business Intelligence applies to an entire range of users out there, that may not be travelling great distances, but might be in an office campus. So in the case of a health care organization, going from an office to a conference room – being able to take the information with you is very important.

“In manufacturing, the ability to take the decision-making process right down to the manufacturing floor. And that was also true in speaking to retail organizations – they want the manager to be out there on the floor, and Business Intelligence to be available to them. And then the consumer products companies, this is more classic, their senior leadership team, who do travel a lot, want to have those key business drivers and metrics available to them at all times.”

Dresner’s latest Mobile BI study (October 2011) asked users about the perceived benefits and risks associated with Mobile BI. User responses from those in retail were particularly strong, with one respondent stating: “For me Mobile BI is nothing more than BI on the go. People don’t talk of mobile email, as it is just expected. BI will go exactly the same way. It goes where I work. It’s not ‘mobile’ it’s just ‘BI’. Perfect for retail, to be able to interact with your data and your products in real time, no longer will a manager say ‘Let me get back to you’.”


Mobile BI: Information dissemination, not building

It’s unclear whether Janus and Burke were intimating that Mobile BI is overhyped because report building, in its current state, would be somewhat cumbersome on mobile devices. But let’s assume that this is their chief reason for downplaying the growing importance of Mobile BI.

If so, I can only agree – no one wants to conduct such complex tasks and interactions on a ‘postage stamp’. But, is that really the point of mobile analytics? Mobile BI is about giving people access to ready-made reports and information, and pushing out notification and alters to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Burke and Janus are right about report building remaining the domain of the desktop, but have they missed the premise behind Mobile BI?

Perhaps sometime in the future, it may become common practice to create BI content via mobile devices. But right now, it’s very much about connecting people with data.


Aberdeen on Mobile BI: Faster decision-making

A recent Aberdeen Research report – Mobile BI: Actionable Intelligence for the Agile Enterprise – found that companies with Mobile BI could make critical business decisions six times faster than organizations without a mobile platform for reporting and analytics.

So, who’s making strategic decisions from their mobile devices? Lots of people Janus, lots of people.

For more on BI in the retail industry, check out our blog post – Data Analysis for the Retail Industry (Part 1)

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