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BI Trends

What is Mobile Business Intelligence?

By  |  September 13, 2013

While mobile business intelligence has been around for more than a decade, the mobile BI market has grown substantially in recent years – from $12.3 billion in 2011 to $13.1 billion in 2012 (a 6.8% increase), according to a Gartner study. But what is mobile intelligence, and how does it differ from desktop business intelligence?

Let’s start with a definition. Mobile business intelligence leverages traditional BI assets like dashboards and reports to deliver information in a mobile-friendly way to large audiences through smartphones, tablets, etc. Mobile business intelligence is often used to enable the remote workforce, so employees are always connected to the home systems, even while on the road. These users are able to access information almost anywhere, at any time, so they can derive insights and take immediate action as required.

The Road to Mobile BI and How to Use It

In their article, “Mobile Business Intelligence Puts Data on the Road,” Forbes describes the state of affairs in the early 90s, when data access while you were away from the office meant writing it down beforehand and taking it with you. Ten years later, the Blackberry helped somewhat, but you still couldn’t’ access tables or charts because of the small screen, let alone move through or edit them using the tiny scroll ball. It wasn’t until the iPhone, iPad, and other mobile devices became mainstream that business intelligence was able to go mobile successfully simply because the previous generations of mobile devices couldn’t handle the content appropriately.

Today, users are not only able to view relevant dashboards and reports on the road, but they’re also able to edit them and even kick off workflows that sync with their home systems. For example, Multiquip, a large, diversified manufacturer, developed a web-based mobile app to complement their sales dashboards to assist district managers on the road. The applications serves as a “point of sale” (POS) system, which enables managers to complete tasks like viewing account history and tailored pricing, creating a quote on the spot, and converting that quote into an order, all of which syncs back to the company’s CRM. Michael Hanken, Vice President of IT, remarked, “Our new dashboard has already changed the way we do business. Our ability as a company to make the right decisions has greatly improved.”

Desktop BI and Mobile BI – What’s the Difference?

It’s important to know the differences in desktop and mobile application development. Since the mobile market is constantly changing in terms of devices, operating systems, and support for different types of content, the QA process can be tedious and time-consuming. Developing apps that comply with web standards like XML and HTML5and work across multiple user platforms can make or break a product. You’ll also want to utilize UI elements like responsive design so visualizations look great regardless of mobile device, as well as functionality native to those devices like clicking on an address to search for the location in Google Maps, or clicking on a phone number to start dialing. Even the inputs need to be mobile-friendly so users can easily access, type, and make changes to visualizations on a smaller screen. Finally, it’s important to differentiate the goals of your desktop applications vs. your (perhaps derivative) mobile applications. If the desktop application is meant to show summary reports with tons of drill-downs for manager types, while the mobile applications is meant to enable workers in the field to create orders and fire off automated emails and alerts, then the functionality as well as look & feel will be very different. Look for a BI tool that supports both types of applications so you can reuse as much content as possible without sacrificing functionality or ease of use.