Moving the boundaries of data consumption

Mobile business intelligence gives senior managers constant access to important information enabling them to make key decisions on the move, as Rod Newing reports

The computer industry promised information at your fingertips – but only if you were sitting at a desk. Mobile business intelligence (BI) is now using tablet computers and smartphones to provide information at your fingertips – wherever you are.

“Mobile BI gives you the pulse of your business in the palm of your hand,” says Santiago Becerra, founder and chief executive of Roambi, which presents data from BI systems on to tablets and smartphones.

BI systems are complex, powerful and functionally rich, and it is likely that financial and business analysts will continue to use laptop or desktop computers to build, maintain and operate them for years to come.

However, simplified interactive reports and dashboards can be delivered to managers on tablet computes and smartphones, alongside their applications for electronic mail, diaries, expense claims, browsers, and so on.

“Mobile users currently aren’t doing the kinds of broad and deep analysis they might perform in their office settings,” says Brian Gentile, chief executive of Jaspersoft, a BI vendor. “Their use is more situational and reactive.”

Mobile BI includes real-time analytics, which are rare systems that generate alerts and need immediate attention, such as safety systems, and the more ubiquitous on-the-go analytics. The latter are being driven by the changing nature of mobility, as it expands from field-based sales staff and travelling executives with laptops, to managers who now spend little time at desks. Mr Becerra points out that many mobile people never leave their building.

“‘Mobile’ is almost a misnomer these days,” says Dale Roberts, client services director at Artesian Solutions, a cloud-based service provider. “It is more about the need for instant and frictionless access to data by senior executives, to obtain the specific information that they need to make a decision.”

Simplified interactive reports and dashboards can be delivered to managers on tablet computes and smartphones

Mr Becerra adds: “We have increased the velocity of business and the level of personal interaction is increasing. When you go to a meeting you need access to your data to discuss important business decisions with the rest of the team or to analyse and solve a particular problem. We need to be constantly reacting to what is happening in the marketplace, in the competitive environment and inside our own companies, when we are no longer close to our desk.”

Clearly, senior executives do not need comprehensive access to all the data available to them, just a relevant sub-set presented on their small screen. Dan Roberts, senior consultant at Cambashi, a management consultancy, expects analysts to use their desktops to analyse vast amounts of near real-time data and condense it into metrics. They can then set up automatic alerts to senior managers’ mobile devices, allowing them to monitor a situation or make a decision to intervene.

“Mobile BI doesn’t have new capabilities or features, but is growing faster than previous BI technologies,” says Joao Tapadinhas, research director for BI analytics and performance management at analysts Gartner. “This is because it is easy-to-use and convenient for end-users who haven’t used BI before to get access to information. It was unusual to see a C-level executive using a BI tool directly, but we are seeing that happening for the first time in a large number of companies.”

Stephen Gallagher, business intelligence expert at PA Consulting Group, expects the techniques and approaches to develop rapidly over the next ten years. Organisations that understand what is possible, align it with their strategy and support it by skilled resource, will gain competitive advantage over their peers.

“Someday soon, we won’t talk about ‘mobile BI’, just BI,” Mr Gentile concludes. “It is still early, but mobile BI is likely to take us to places we haven’t imagined yet.”