Software // Information Management
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3/7/2011
09:25 AM
Rajan Chandras
Rajan Chandras
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Is Mobile BI Worth the Hype?

Separate "must have" from "nice to have" mobile business intelligence functionality. And watch out for licensing implications.

There's something about the phrase "mobile analytics" that holds out visions of empowered business users, but defining the value requires some sincere soul-searching within your own organization. A candid evaluation of your business requirements begins with the question: What does this phrase really mean to you, and are you ready for mobile analytics?

If yours is like the average business, chances are your need for mobile analytics is, frankly, limited. Most companies are toward the wide end of the funnel shown in the graphic below, with many employees using mobile devices for mundane matters like email access (the classic "BlackBerry use case"); perhaps a few of them benefit from high-end functions like alerts, and even fewer from interactive mobile analytics.

In the recent Forrester Wave evaluation of BI platforms, analyst Boris Evelson and others find that even as mobile BI applications are growing in popularity, "they still remain in the realm of 'nice to have.'"

Dig a little deeper into this analysis and we find a few underlying factors.

The first factor is that despite lofty vendor claims, mobile analytics is only beginning to gain momentum and maturity -- in vendor product suites as well as in business deployment. In its latest Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms, Gartner examines whether the platform enables users to "fully interact with BI content delivered to mobile devices."

Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000
(click image for larger view)
Mobile Computing Use Case Diagram
The phrase "fully interact" is the key. The ability to send alerts embedded in email or text messages, or links to static content in email messages hardly represents sophistication in mobile analytics.

For users to benefit from mobile BI, they must be able to navigate dashboards and guided analytics comfortably -- or as comfortably as the mobile device will allow, which is where devices with high-resolution screens and touch interfaces (like the iPhone and Android-based phones) have a clear edge over, say, earlier editions of BlackBerry. How many BI vendors offer this kind of navigation? The next time your BI vendors touts its mobile business intelligence capabilities, invite them to present use cases that demonstrate these capabilities as implemented at other customers. The presentation will speak for itself.

It is equally important to take a step back to define your purpose and adoption patterns on the funnel. Which business users stand to benefit the most from mobile analytics -- and what, exactly, is their requirement? You don't need mobile analytics to send a few alerts or summary reports to their handhelds -- without interactivity, mobile BI is indistinguishable from merely informative email or text messages.

Consider the risks: For example, are users looking to extend existing BI capabilities or new capabilities to the handheld? Your chances of success are best when extending an existing desktop BI solution -- the requirements are clear, and the solution is probably mature.

If the request is not based on any existing BI solution, let the (alarm) bells toll; chances are, a mobile-only solution will not be sufficient.

Understand, also, the licensing model, which continues to be the bane of BI. Are the mobile analytics embedded in the BI software suite, or is that a separate (license) component? Then, what additional infrastructure will you need to deliver analytics to users' handhelds?

Mobile BI is here to stay, and will continue to grow rapidly, as employers increasingly look to keep managers and decision-makers "on the hook" on a 24x7 basis. In other words, certainly there's hope -- but there's also hype.

Rajan Chandras has more than 20 years of experience advising and leading business/technology initiatives, with a focus on strategy and information management. Write him at rchandras at gmail dot com.

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