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Intelligence on the Go: Mobile Delivery of BI

Many BI vendors now offer modules that let you deliver just about any report to smart phones, but as a major retailer, a health care provider and a major government agency have discovered, practical, tactical wins are the key to mobile success.
Preparing for Emergencies

The mobile BI application at NASA's famed Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, is not quite off the ground. The agency's Launch Processing Directorate, which is responsible for launching the Space Shuttle, has been using Information Builders' WebFocus for nearly ten years. The BI platform is the foundation for five core applications: a travel application for tacking business travel, an IT purchase approval app, a budgeting and forecasting app, an auditing app and an emergency notification application. The last of these became the first priority for mobile delivery, and with good reason.

The Emergency Notification App came about in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, explains Ron Phelps, project manager in the Shuttle Project Control Office. "In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, managers in the Michoud Assembly Facility [in Louisianna] and Stennis Center [in Mississippi] had difficulty tracking down employees, finding out if they needed help and estimating how quickly they could get back to work," Phelps explains. "To preclude that from happening at the Kennedy Space Center, we developed an application to provide notification information to managers so we can clear the Center but have up-to-date contact information for our employees."

Many Launch Directorate managers were already equipped with Blackberries, so when Information Builders introduced the WebFocus Mobile Favorites add-on module late last year, it was natural to consider mobile reporting applications. And given that hurricanes warnings have forced evacuations of the Kennedy Space Center on a number of occasions, the emergency notification app was an obvious first choice; Phelps and his team focused on a few key reports.

"One of the parameterized reports let you can select a mail code for a particular organization, and it will give you the data for all the personnel within that group," Phelps explains. "Within 24 hours prior to clearing the center, the plan is to produce final reports that they can download and have available on their mobile device."

Some 25 to 30 managers are to gain mobile access to these reports so they can track some 400 employees in the Launch Directorate. Unfortunately, changing security requirements have delayed Phelp's beta project. After initial VPN sign-in and encryption requirements had been resolved, the Launch Directorate's IT team implemented the Kerberos authentication protocol, a development that has presented another technical hurdle to signing into central servers from the mobile browsers currently supported by RIM.

"We're working with Information Builders to try to figure out that the best solution will be," says Phelps. "I chose emergency notification because it's one of our simpler applications and we wanted to test it out and learn the right way to do it before trying it on something more complicated."

Once the latest security wrinkles are resolved, Phelps guesses that the travel tracking application might be the next to be mobilized so managers who are themselves on the road can keep track of subordinates and colleagues who are travelling.

Keep it Actionable

As these case studies suggest, the RIM Blackberry seems to be the favored device for BI delivery (see table above) and enterprise use in general (as confirmed by market share stats for North America). More importantly, these examples also suggest that deep drill-downs and sophisticated analyses can wait until you're back in the office. What mobile delivery of BI is all about is practical, tactical information needed to make immediate decisions.

"People are looking for information to address a particular question or to complete a transaction," says Gartner analyst Ted Friedman. "The biggest value is in operational BI — information in the context of applications — not in pushing lots of data to somebody's phone. What you want to send them is the exceptions, the alerts or what they really need to act on now."