Mobile Business Intelligence: The Pseudo Revolution

January 21, 2011
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Business Intelligence (BI) vendors are full of their own importance. 

I appreciate the need to vigorously promote your own handy work.  But, I also understand its purpose.

Business Intelligence (BI) vendors are full of their own importance. 

I appreciate the need to vigorously promote your own handy work.  But, I also understand its purpose.

It’s simple.  Mobile BI is evolutionary; not revolutionary – it has developed over time.  It is a logical response to changing business needs and the emergence of new portable communications technologies.  It’s also not revolutionary because it won’t drastically change how most companies use BI.

Evolution: The slow burn

Like most things, BI has changed in response to technological advancements. As Aberdeen’s David Hatch, stated:

“The dynamics of business information delivery have changed gradually over time. As mobile communications and computing have become more advanced and widespread, many companies have moved to a mobile and / or remote workforce strategy.”

The need for Mobile BI has arisen via a meld of technological innovation and user demand, stimulated by a new tech savvy generation of business people.

Mobile BI: Interest outweighs action

As this new technology has emerged, logically, there has been both interest and adoption from business communities.  So, as expected, Mobile BI adoption and implementation rates have grown over the last few years.  But, it appears that curiosity far outweighs serious buyers.

Aberdeen research demonstrates this point.  Aberdeen produced a 2008 study investigating best practices for making BI available on mobile phones.  The report revealed that 17 percent of companies surveyed said they were already delivering BI to mobile devices within their organization, while 78 percent of respondents said they were interested in Mobile BI.

The situation has progressed, but certainly not at a revolutionary pace.  A recent Aberdeen survey from May last year, found that 23 percent of respondents said they had “a mobile BI application or dashboard in place”, while an additional 31 percent said they were planning on instigating “some type” of Mobile BI within a year.

So the Mobile BI market has grown and evolved over the last two or three years.  Unquestionable.  But, with the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated handheld devices capable of receiving and displaying increasingly rich content – such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad – this growth in uptake and interest doesn’t seem unprecedented.  Even factoring in the effects of the recession.

What’s that I hear you say?  But those ARE impressive numbers.  Well yes; sort of.  However, if you listened to all the hype and self-congratulatory backslapping within the BI industry, you’d believe that Mobile BI was for absolutely everyone – no matter industry, sector or business.  Concurrently, if you took the marketing excitement at its word, you’d expect 99.9 percent of Aberdeen survey respondents (allowing for the 0.1% of those who obviously don’t care about the success of their business) to say that they were at least interested in pursuing a Mobile BI program.  We would have also seen significantly more companies with, or in the planning stages of, Mobile BI rollout.

The converts

Despite the conclusions I’m drawing from these figures, some would vigorously disagree with my analysis.  Samir Sakpal, an analyst from Frost & Sullivan, predicts that mobile analytics will penetrate far beyond niche markets and move into the mainstream.  Sakpal makes this prediction because he claims Mobile BI facilitates two things: “faster decisions and a higher quality of customer service.”  Hard to argue with that logic. 

Mobile BI: It’s just not for everyone

But, for most business people who spend the majority of their day behind a desk, it’s hard to see how the ability to access data analysis on their phone will noticeably effect their ability to make faster decisions or deliver better customer service.

As stated in a recent Business Analytics Tech Target interview, Sumit Agarwa, a BI consultant with Accenture, said that many organizations or departments can’t see the need either.

“Honestly, I haven’t seen any interest in Mobile BI applications (from our clients at Accenture),” Agarwa said.

While Agarwa posited the view that Mobile BI is suitable “for senior or top-level management who need to access the high-level numbers on the move”, he said that it’s usefulness for office-based workers is limited.

“For most reporting and BI needs, I don’t think there would be much justification for data access through mobile apps,” Agarwa said. “This would make it really difficult to justify the added cost and return on investment on such solutions.”

Dresner report: Mobile BI a niche market

This view is backed-up by Howard Dresner, president and founder of Dresner Advisory Services and a former Gartner analyst, in his latest survey.

In an interview with SearchBusinessAnalytics.com news editor, Jeff Kelly, Dresner said survey results indicated Mobile BI is particularly useful for time-poor executives and mobile sales teams.

“The best real-world example of it’s usefulness came from a big retailer from the survey.  They said it allows their management and sales management team to go out in the field and meet with the various stores without a lot of preparation,” Dresner said.

“In the past they had to generate a lot of documents in advance – by the time they got out to the stores a lot of that information was already stale.  So it didn’t allow them to do anything ad hoc or impromptu.”

Dresner said that although “interest is intense”, only around 50 percent of respondents considered Mobile BI as important, and “around 30 percent of respondents are actually doing ‘stuff’ (with Mobile BI).”

Conclusion

So, am I, Hatch or Dresner suggesting that Mobile BI is unimportant?  No.  Not for a minute.  It offers many possibilities and opportunities to empower mobile and time-poor executives, sales and field service personnel with the real-time data they need to make timely business decisions.

Just don’t believe the hype.  Mobile BI is a specific product, for a specific purpose, and will only be useful to specific markets.