Q & A With Howard Dresner on Mobile BI

October 27, 2010
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5010 36205 Dresner Howard 909 150x150 photo (business intelligence)

5010 36205 Dresner Howard 909 150x150 photo (business intelligence)

An analyst specializing in business intelligence and performance-based management, Howard Dresner has studied and consulted in these disciplines for two decades.  He worked for 13 years at Gartner and, in 2007, formed his own firm.  He has written two books including 2009’s “Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change.”

Q:  So is Business Intelligence (BI) getting organizations and remote workers singing in harmony from the same songbook?

A:  You can’t control your data anymore. And you can’t have finance coming in with one set of numbers, operations, sales or marketing with a different set and putting people into a defensive position discussing the numbers. I wrote a case study about the Cleveland Clinic, where the CEO is not just a practicing doctor but also a visionary leader. Medical operations and finance at the Cleveland Clinic said they had to work together and get metrics to change behavior and ‘fight back’ against other departments. BI can show performance levels, protect budgets and change how people are perceived by top leaders. Q: What changes in the analytics/business intelligence field have most affected companies and usability?

A: User interfaces have become profoundly easier to use and we’re approaching a point where the interface is far better adapted to how users prefer to use it, rather than requiring a tremendous amount of training. It needs to be that easy so I can look at it, make sense of data very quickly and make decisions. It’s really the objective of BI to provide insight but to do so across the whole organization with a unified, consistent view of the same information.

Trends like ERP (enterprise resource planning) and brought some standardization around semantics and definitions. There are a set of definitions about what a customer is, what revenue is and what profit means. We’ve come a long way not just in the technology but in the science – data warehouse and quality and related sources of information have created a lot of thought and process that didn’t exist 15 years ago.

Q: What is the impact of moving this process and BI tools to a mobile workforce?

A: Mobile BI is a really big deal and is going to change a lot of things because of accessibility. Mobile makes it more timely and gets more eyes on data. If we just push the data out that’s not as valuable. With BI, people email out PDF-style reports. And we’ve used mobile devices for email or messaging, because there is clearly a benefit about a customer or competitive situation – getting information quickly so we can act on it.

Q: Is this a case of the devices and networks finally catching up with applications? Or software capitalizing on the ‘always on/always connected‘ worker?

A: We’ve been talking about mobile BI for over a decade and vendors have made it mostly demo-ware. I give Steve Jobs and Apple a lot of credit for changing culture to using mobile platforms as a primary information device. The iPad has sold more than 3 million units and is the most successful-selling device of all time and other tablets are on the way, and they are changing things.

(By the way, Howard shared his Mobile BI study in late October in a webinar. DVD copies are available at http://www.mobile-bi-study.com/)

Maybe I should do something impromptu to visit a customer if I’m in Los Angeles but I wouldn’t do it without the latest information. At Guess, before a regional manager went out to a store, they compiled a lot of research with a huge binder. Then they changed to the Blackberry platform and now they’re moving to a tablet.

Q: And the growth of these tools is changing management culture – but how does it progress beyond just being data-driven?

A: Most organizations and human beings don’t like to change — that’s a psychological and anthropological issue and process change is hard. But to do this right, you have to approach how you work, what you think and what you believe. You need leadership and most organizations don’t have visionary leadership.

BI is often approached tactically by IT and to optimize existing processes – you don’t want to radically change the machine, but squirt a little oil in there – with BI as the oil — and hope for the best. Sometimes they get a little better, but it’s not profound. When you change the culture and make BI the lifeblood of your organization, it has amazing results. When it becomes urgent and crucial and you’re using it to manage downward, it gets really important, really fast. When CEOs and other C-levels get religion about this, the workforce really embraces it.

Leaders create the urgency and the organization’s workers realize the need to get onboard because it’s strategic — meaning I have to do it to keep my job. The bottom line is Business Intelligence makes the user smarter than he or she would be otherwise.

David Wallace
Spotfire Blogging Team

Image Credit: Courtesy of Howard Dresner