Mobile BI Isn’t Only About Mobile

May 30, 2011
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It’s an unspoken assumption that mobile BI extends normal BI: almost all the coverage so far emphasizes the usefulness of these devices for people out of the office: on the road, or on the factory floor – and it’s hard not to agree that there is a great opportunity to bring business intelligence to new classes of users. In particular, executives spend their lives running around visiting different departments and divisions, asking people to justify (and improve) their performance. Having the dashboards at their fingertips, as they ask the questions, is an extremely powerful tool that makes the managing process more efficient (aka “if you’re finished arguing your opinions, I actually have some data…”)

But I think “mobile BI” goes further than that, and will increasingly replace existing full-client BI systems. Today’s mobile devices aren’t just small enough to stick in your pocket, they also tend to use state-of-the-art, multi-touch interfaces.  Just like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, it’s simply more intuitive and easy to access  information using your fingertips than it is a mouse. Increasingly, I find myself reaching for my iPad to access data, rather than my laptop, even when it’s right in front of me.

Today’s mobile devices are simply better for analysis, and their children will replace BI on PCs, not just augment it. Looking to the future, the lines between mobile and traditional devices is blurring fast: tablets are becoming more powerful, and supporting “traditional” operating systems like Windows, and laptops are starting to come installed with multi-touch touchpads, GPS and 3G connections. “Mobile” will no longer be a separate environment, but a seamless part of a normal rollout.

One factor, however, may delay the process. For many years, vendors have had the luxury of fairly simply platform choices in the enterprise world: Windows or a browser as the front end, Windows/Unix/Linux as the back end. But there’s been an explosion of different mobile device operating systems and multi-touch interfaces, with no end to the confusion in sight. HTML 5 will almost certainly help, but there’s a long way to go before it’s strong enough to replace existing choices for intuitive, device-optimized, multi-touch interfaces. Multiple choices means extra work for the vendors, and slower deployment/adoption of the new interfaces in enterprise environments.