Mobile Business Intelligence: Best-in-Class Secrets to Success

Companies succeeding at mobile BI delivery share winning practices for process improvement, organization, performance measurement and technology implementation.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 8, 2008

10 Min Read

As mobile communications and computing have become more advanced and widespread, many companies have moved to mobile and remote workforce strategies. This has increased the demand to extend the value of existing business intelligence (BI) investments to provide actionable information to the mobile and remote user communities. Delivering this information via smart phones, tablet PCs, and other sub-notebook devices is becoming a requirement.

This article, which summarizes the Aberdeen Group report "Mobile Business Intelligence: A Path to Pervasive BI?", investigates whether mobile BI can enable the goal of "pervasive BI" and related performance advantages. Based on a survey and interviews with more than 130 companies, Aberdeen's research reveals that Best-in-Class (BIC) companies — those among the top 20 percent in customer satisfaction, customer retention, employee productivity and sales pipeline performance — also show the highest levels of report reuse for mobile delivery and the broadest use of BI overall. Among the secrets of Best-in-Class success are user-directed report scheduling, automated "push" delivery and alerting, adequate training and technical support, and remote software installation and upgrade capabilities.


chart: BIC Technology Adoption Plans

The challenge of supporting a mobile workforce with timely, relevant, and actionable business information is multi-faceted. In addition to the issues surrounding data volumes and connectivity, organizations must also resolve issues related to device and platform standardization, display screen real estate, and data and device security. Some of these issues have been addressed by companies that have taken an early-adopter approach to mobile BI.

Adoption of enabling technical capabilities is currently lower than overall adoption of BI software, but the level of planned adoption is very high (see "BIC Technology Adoption Plans," above). Respondents report that the mobile user is one of the single most underserved groups of BI end users, and the organization is focused on alleviating this deficiency as mobile computing continues to become more prevalent and adopted by senior executives.

chart: Pressures Driving Mobile BI

The predominant pressures driving companies to investigate and invest in a mobile delivery method for BI are detailed in the "Pressures Driving Mobile BI Initiatives" chart, at right.


To understand the value of a mobile BI initiative, it is important to tie strategies and actions to the achievement of bottom-line company performance improvement. Aberdeen used four performance metrics to determine Best-in-Class performance:

  • Customer satisfaction: percent year-over-year change in customer satisfaction (past 24 months)

  • Employee retention: percent year-over year change in employee retention rates (past 24 months)

  • Employee productivity: percent year-over-year improvement in employee time-spent looking for relevant information (past 24 months)

  • Sales pipeline performance: percent year-over-year change in the ability to add new opportunities to the sales pipeline (past 24 months).

Delivering BI capabilities to mobile workers requires a combination of strategic actions, organizational capabilities, and enabling technologies. Best-in-Class companies are those in the top 20 percent of aggregate performance scorers. Average companies are those in the middle 50 percent of aggregate performance scorers. Laggards are defined as firms among the bottom 30 percent of performance scorers. BEST-IN-CLASS STRATEGIES

The mobile workforce has grown out of the days of the "road warrior," a mobile worker, (often a field sales professional), armed with communications and computing power designed to provide the same productivity on the road as could be experienced in the office. The ability to access information and connect to enterprise data resources often required a connection (typically a hard line) and the applications delivered to the road warrior were almost exclusively designed for a notebook or laptop computer. These limitations held the mobile worker back from achieving the true potential of the mobility they had achieved.

chart: Where Companies will Invest

As the mobile workforce has grown, and as smaller, hand-held devices have become more ubiquitous, applications have started to emerge for these smaller devices. Mobile devices have enabled a broader swath of workers from many areas of the business to become more mobile.

Companies are focusing on establishing mobile BI capabilities across several areas of the business (see "Where Companies Will Invest in Mobile BI," above). The bulk of the investment will address customer-facing job roles. This is perhaps somewhat surprising when viewed through the lens of the top business pressure driving investment – the need to improve business process efficiency.

However, the processes identified as being most important shed some light on this apparent contradiction. While it is, indeed, the customer-facing roles that are prioritized for investment in mobile BI, it is not the customers themselves who are being targeted for performance improvement. Rather it is the mobile worker and workforce as a whole. Process efficiencies, in an operational sense, have to do with the productivity of the people involved in the process.

Companies seeking to invest in providing mobile workers with access to applications and real-time or near-real-time information understand that the potential benefits go beyond the ability to respond more quickly to customer demand, but also toward achieving higher efficiencies, cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, risk management, and workforce cohesiveness.


Aberdeen Group analyzed the aggregated metrics of surveyed companies to determine whether their performance ranked as Best-in-Class, Industry Average, or Laggard. In addition to having common performance levels, each class also shared characteristics in five key categories:

1. Process. The approaches they take to execute their daily operation
2. Organization. Corporate focus and collaboration among stakeholders
3. Knowledge management. Contextualizing data and exposing it to key stakeholders
4. Technology. The selection of appropriate tools and effective deployment of those tools
5. Performance management. The ability of the organization to measure their results to improve their business

These characteristics serve as a guideline for best practices, and correlate directly with Best-in-Class performance across the key metrics. Aberdeen's analysis of Best-in-Class companies demonstrates that successful mobile BI initiatives depend on a combination of specific capabilities and technology enablers in these five areas, as explained in the pages that follow.

Process. Process management plays an important role in an organization's ability to deliver business intelligence capabilities to the mobile workforce. Two processes in particular can prove to be important factors toward achieving Best-in-Class performance. User-directed scheduling of report delivery puts the power of information filtering in the hands of the end-user. Mobile users are accustomed to the customization that is delivered with current mobile device applications; the ability to select and schedule reports should not be treated differently. Survey respondents revealed that the feeling of being "in control" of the mobile device is an important factor when it comes to user adoption. Best-in-Class companies are more than 2.5-times as likely to have this capability in-place.

Automated report delivery to the mobile device is something that few companies are currently capable of achieving, however Best-in-Class respondents are more than twice as likely to do this today. By establishing an automated process for delivering information to mobile workers, there's no demand for end users to remember to check for information. This "push" approach can go a long way toward solving the business pressures around process efficiency and employee productivity by alleviating time spent looking for information.

Organization. Process management is an excellent place to start, but no process is truly effective unless there is an established organization behind it to see it through. A first logical step is to establish a formal committee to identify information requirements and access policies. Next, create and deploy a formal training program for mobile end users to establish a foundation for cultural change and adoption of mobile information and applications. Finally, these objectives are fulfilled by establishing a dedicated technical support/help desk team committed to assisting the mobile workforce. Best-in-Class companies have already made initial investments in these organizational capabilities.

Knowledge Management. For the organizational initiatives to be truly effective, plans and people must be put into action. Knowledge management plays an important role in executing on a Mobile BI initiative by enabling a consistent understanding of the end-user requirements and data sources necessary to support mobile users. This step includes the creation and maintenance of a mobile-user directory, including roles, profiles and information requirements. It also requires that organizations clearly define and execute on security policies that control access to sensitive data based on role, access type, and authentication. Survey respondents revealed that they expect this capability to be included in existing BI software solutions or delivered through existing network management tools.

Meanwhile, controls must also be put into place on the level and volume of information that can be accessed on the mobile device. Too often, news stories and headlines tell the sad story of lost or stolen notebook PCs or mobile devices that contain sensitive data. Therefore, it's critical that any mobile BI strategy include limitations on unrestricted, unmonitored access to sensitive information for any type of user, executive or line-level knowledge worker. Best-in-Class companies are far less likely to provide unlimited access to enterprise application data than other respondents.

Performance Management. Achieving the end-goal of proving BI capabilities to mobile workers involves a long journey with many milestones. Best-in-Class companies have realized that "you can't manage what you don't measure" and have started establishing performance management capabilities through pilot programs and monitoring measures in order to better understand and react to mobile BI usage.

Aberdeen Group has produced a large body of research concerning performance management, and the establishment of both strategic and operational KPIs to assist in the measurement and ultimately the management of KPIs to attain both corporate and departmental goals (see Appendix B of Aberdeen's full report for a listing and access to reports dealing with operational KPIs and performance management).

Technology. There are many technologies, and therfore many technological skills and fluencies, to learn when it comes to delivering BI capabilities to mobile workers. One of the top inhibitors blocking efforts to deliver BI capabilities to the mobile workerforce is the concern about data security and access control. Best-in-Class companies are almost twice as likely to have established capabilities to address this obstacle than other respondents. In addition, Best-in-Class companies are also more likely to have automation capabilities for the remote installation and upgrade of BI software to the mobile device. This allows the enterprise to extend BI investments and potentially to realize faster ROI on those investments without having to manually install software on each device individually.

End users at Best-in-Class organizations are also more likely to be able to run ad hoc reports on their mobile devices, and the reports themselves are more likely to be rendered appropriately based on the device type in use. This helps to accelerate user adoption as mobile workers realize that the information they receive can be tailored to meet their individual needs.

Mobile BI capabilities can be delivered in several ways, and within several approaches and enabling software solutions. Best-in-Class companies are significantly more likely to be automating the broadcast of alert messages (typically via email triggered by back-end BI systems) and are also almost twice as likely to leverage existing BI output within email alerts to mobile devices. This is a good place to start, and companies are also beginning to experiment with the delivery of analytic applications and dashboards to mobile devices.


To understand the challenges surrounding the delivery of business intelligence capabilities to mobile workers, companies must first identify the usage characteristics within the organization. Survey response reveals that Best-in-Class companies are more apt to be "heavy" users of BI, and are more likely to achieve "pervasive" use of BI throughout the organization. Pervasiveness of BI is driven in-part by organizations that address the information requirements of a growing base of mobile users.

Whether you hope to move your company's mobile BI performance from Laggard to Industry Average, or Industry Average to Best-in-Class, Chapter Three of Aberdeen's complete report offers eight suggested "Steps to Success." The 28-page report also includes 13 figures and three tables not included in this article. Click here to download the free document (registration required).

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