Mobile BI: For that executive on-the-go

Business Intelligence has caught the mobile bug. While there are warnings issued about the length of caution that must be met, essentially applications are being built to help mobile BI professionals to do their job all the time.

Imagine a not very futuristic picture of an executive dressed in a Matrix inspired black suit barking orders, which he lands at due to the business reports that some futuristic device presents to him.

With the changing face of business intelligence (BI), it’s no sci-fi fantasy that decision makers will have to simply keep dreaming about. The dream to have strategic business information in the palms of your hands is now within reach of the modern executives with the mobile BI technology.

Evolving mobile BI landscape

The domain of BI has evolved significantly over the last few years. Several applications, now available, allow users to upload their own sheets and work thereon. Even Excel can provide great visualization using PowerPivot. Self-service BI has emerged as a popular model.

Simultaneously, the smart phone of today can offer visualizations, computing, and internet experience in addition to communication. Their rendition of graphics is close to laptops, thus making them ideal media for accessing BI reports.

Tablet PCs are another segment where mobile BI will see a lot of traction.                                                                                                   

Mobile BI is meant for those highly mobile executives and who need to take decisions based on a few important KPIs (key performance indicators).

Limitations of mobile BI

Although mobile BI has been gaining popularity, the technology has a few limitations. Listed below are some key short comings that mobile BI has today. This includes concerns about the amount of data that can be pushed to the mobile platform due to the limitations of the device in terms of viewable area, processing power, and memory.

  1. Limited slicing and dicing: Mobile BI apps provide limited slicing and dicing of data owing to hardware limitations.
  1. High latency: For larger requests, the query returns to the server and configures the reports, thus increasing latency.
  1. Associated costs: Vendors providing their own apps also tie their mobile BI server to it, thus inflating the cost of mobile BI projects.
  1. Real estate limits: Another area is a problem akin to what the smart phone faces -- the limited real estate/viewing area for data visualization and rendering.  However, tablets seem to have overcome this shortcoming.
  1. Security: Amount and type of information to be sent to mobile devices and the kind of authentication to be built into the mobile platform are crucial challenges faced by CIOs and CISOs. A robust security and access control layer needs to be developed along with implementation of any enterprise mobility initiative, including mobile BI.

A combination of user authentication, mobile device security, multi-tier architecture, and data transmission security can help one mitigate the security risk greatly.

Mobile BI: What you can buy

Organizations can implement mobile BI as a tool. Vendors like SAP BO, Qlikview, and Microstrategy provide mobile BI as an offering along with their BI suites.

Recently, Qlikview reverted to browser-based delivery of BI content thus moving away from native application-based delivery. This move could possibly have been driven by the proliferation of multiple device operating platforms such as iOS, Symbian, Android, etc.

The open source folks are not far behind. BIRT offers similar mobile BI (BIRT Mobile) functionalities which could be suitable for budget conscious but tech-savvy organizations. A new player, Yellowfin BI, offers embedded and social media BI capability. Two other players who have already taken the lead and worth watching in the mobile BI app market are RoamBI and PushBI.

On the job learning

The good part is that one does not need to hire a talented BI person in the IT team unless custom applications are to be developed. BI users may need to learn ways to function with the current desktop-based BI tools, to incorporate the mobile media.

The growing amount of web conferences on mobile BI helps one gauge the level this new delivery medium will gain.

About the author: Ramesh Babu is Associate Vice President & Lead BIDW (Matured Geographies) at Mphasis. He is a certified project management professional with 19+ years of experience in information systems, project management, DWH, business intelligence, pre-sales, and techno-business consulting.

(As told to Sharon D'Souza)

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