On The Road

Mobile BI Takes Data Analysis on the Road

On The RoadAre you ready for a new “connected business reality”, with mobile networked usage becoming the norm for heavyweight information-analysis applications, such as business intelligence and its cousin Big Data?

Mobile BI builds upon the timely convergence of better WAN and mobile connectivity, BYOD and more powerful mobile devices, and new data analysis tools. Its aim is to give senior executives and line-of-business managers ready access to BI information in order to make quick and timely business decisions.

BI is all about making huge volumes of data easier to dig through, analyze, and act upon, so it relies a lot on creating graphs and charts, and linking information together via dashboards. That’s why the growth of mobile BI has depended upon the growing acceptance of smartphones and tablets — for users to benefit from mobile BI, they must be able to navigate dashboards and guided analytics comfortably, so high-resolution touchscreens fronting multicore processors are a distinct advantage.

There are other gating factors though, most notably security, as well as the issues around data volumes and connectivity. In particular, mobile BI really needs at least 3G mobile data, is even better with 3.5G (HSPA) and 4G, and should benefit further from WAN optimization technologies such as latency mitigation.

Hello good-BI

For a minority, mobile BI will be nothing new, as some smaller BI players have offered it for a few years now. However, many early attempts were quite basic — emailed reports, for instance, or slow, browser-based views into a server application. For example, back in 2008 an Aberdeen Group report found that, even among ‘best-in-class’ companies, the most widely adopted mobile BI schemes involved automated alerts or static content delivered by email.

So what has changed to allow analysts such as Ovum’s Fredrik Tunvall to declare that “mobile BI has finally arrived”, while Forrester principal analyst Boris Evelson declares that “Mobility is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it will become the new BI mantra?

For one thing, it’s the growing support of the BI gorillas — SAP, IBM Cognos, Information Builders, MicroStrategy, and SAS are among those with native or hybrid apps for mobile devices. (Ovum notes that Apple iOS and Android are much better supported today than BlackBerry or Windows Phone/Slate, but that will surely change with the high-profile launch of BlackBerry’s Z10 – and with Microsoft itself being a major BI player.)

More importantly though, it’s that new analytical software, more powerful mobile hardware, and faster mobile connectivity have all converged, and it has happened at pretty much the same time that businesses have run out of easy (or even middling-to-hard) wins in the battle to cut costs and become more competitive.

In addition, there is a lot more to like about taking BI mobile, besides being always connected. For example, developers are already linking in mobile features such as GPS location to enable geospatial analytics — tailoring a query to your location. Forrester’s Evelson says he also expects to see other mobile features become the norm for BI in general, such multiple visual query methods, animated displays, and integration with other enterprise mobile ERP applications.

From the networking perspective, this is yet another application to stress both your WAN and your outbound connectivity in general. If you are already supporting other mobile enterprise apps, and perhaps BYOD as well, then you should already be well on course. Bear in mind though that mobile BI could be at least as latency-sensitive as, and far more data-heavy than, anything else you have that is mobile.

Image credit: RebeccaBarray (flickr) – CC-BY-NC-SA