Answering that question is part of the raison d'etre at BI company JackBe, which focuses its efforts on "real-time intelligence"--particularly of the type that field reps and other in-the-trenches staff need to make data-driven decisions.
"We tend to do best when the kinds of people we're helping are what we would call operational," said JackBe vice president of marketing Chris Warner. "These aren't necessarily the guys that sit in the glass offices and look at big [key performance indicator] dashboards. These are folks that are on the ground where data is very, very fluid."
That translates to a growing need for mobile BI--and in the case of the operational user, not only the data itself but the ability to manipulate that data.
[Top performers in the SMB market are using BI to transform data into timely insights. See BI for the SMB: Unlocking Hidden Business Insight to Drive Profit.]
JackBe has spent more than a year mobilizing its Presto platform and soon will launch those enhancements. In an interview with InformationWeek, Warner and JackBe CTO John Crupi shared their top five tips for successfully extending a BI deployment to a mobile platform such as Apple's iPad, another tablet, or smartphones.
1. Focus on key applications. The most successful mobile BI deployments he sees in working with JackBe clients are those that focus on a small number of mission-critical applications for end users rather than a kitchen-sink strategy, said Crupi. "The reason why is there's a lot to learn," he said. That includes the development perspective, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) versus IT-managed policy decision, security, and other considerations. "Start with something that does one or two things well."
2. Don't boil the ocean. The same mindset should govern the data sources and infrastructure behind a mobile strategy, Crupi said. He sees RFPs that attempt to cover every possible data source or scenario in a mobile deployment. "They throw everything in there and are coming at it that they're going to build this massive infrastructure to manage [mobile] apps when they don't even have a single app yet," Crupi said. "In a large number of cases, that just doesn't work out."
3. Think dashboards for tablets. Crupi believes that BI dashboards and tablet interfaces are a natural fit--so much so that an increasing number of dashboards will be designed specifically for those displays rather than simply repurposed from a desktop UI. "Anybody in the field, no matter who they are, can have access to these dashboards," he said.
4. Extend the app portal to the device. "Think of the device as another entry point into the enterprise," Crupi said. "That's where you authenticate and authorize, and that's where you have access to the apps." In other words, give end users access to the menu directly on their device. Warner added that this becomes increasingly important for SMBs and other organizations that start small (see #1 and #2) and quickly begin expanding their mobile deployment. That's all the more true in self-service environments where end users can create their own applications with visual tools, said Warner. "The minute you have more than a handful [of apps], you need the menu or catalog--the app portal," he said. That approach enables users to share apps across the organization--and, if supported, even rate and comment on them a la social recommendations.
5. Embrace HTML5. Along similar scalability lines, Crupi and Warner are big proponents of HTML5, especially in multi-platform environments, BYOD or otherwise. That's particularly true for SMBs with tight development resources. Instead of building and rebuilding native apps for each platform--and rebuilding again when those platforms change--do the development once in HTML5.
"HTML5 lets [SMBs] address a different issue, which is not whether to do mobile but what platform to do mobile on," said Warner. "The mobile market is somewhat chaotic, and the safe bet is to make a bet on everybody. The way to do that nowadays seems to be HTML5."