Making Mobile BI mainstream

Mobile business intelligence and the ability to access big data on the move is now a necessity for executives making critical business decisions.

Mobile BI has been the buzzword of the business intelligence world for quite some time. The rapid take up of mobile, tablet and android technologies, along with the expectation that information can be instantly accessed via application software 24/7, has not been confined to the consumer world. 

Businesses, too, are arming workforces with these tools as part of everyday ‘work wear’, driven by the ever increasing value being placed by senior management on the ability to stay one step ahead via instant access to commercial information.  

We’re not talking purely about enterprises. In today’s global information economy, thanks to cloud hosted data and mobile business intelligence delivery, businesses of all sizes are now afforded the luxury of access to data on the run. CIOs and CEOs recognise its importance and budgets are being allocated accordingly.

Indeed, Gartner’s recent 2012 BI Magic Quadrant survey reported a third of respondents plan to deploy Mobile BI in 2012. This is further inflated by a TechTarget survey that predicts almost 50 per cent of all companies will have mobile BI solutions by the end of this year.

But trying to keep up with ‘Generation App’, while maintaining privacy and corporate governance, is not without its challenges. The question is where does the risk really sit – in the cloud or in the hand? Can the benefits of mobile BI outweigh the risks and provide rapid solutions to the inherent challenges associated with managing big data in the cloud?

Delivering on the demand for data

Business intelligence isn’t the sole domain of the IT department anymore because business users have managed to buck this trend.  That’s not to say that data has transcended into the business domain entirely, but there is a noticeable shift in where the appetite and access now sits. This is naturally impacting how data control is being approached and managed within organisations. 

Accessing cloud-hosted information via applications has fast become the norm for us all as consumers. So it’s natural that there is an expectation for business information to be delivered through the same channels. 

Cloud hosted business information has many benefits. Solutions can be up and running within a day, require no capital outlay and cut hardware costs.  Information can be also be integrated with data sets from external providers, such as national statistics, and is much easier to access during peak times of use. 

But anxieties surrounding cloud-based data storage security still exist amongst corporate data guardians. With data breaches from lost mobiles and tablets being the main area of concern, these anxieties are natural but also resolvable. 

The risks associated with mobile BI do not lie in cloud-based data storage, but in how an organisation approaches deployment. By limiting access rights to desk-based hardware and controlling what can be viewed on the go, businesses can mitigate the risks associated with mobile BI to ensure they are manageable and kept to a minimum.

Cloud vs. premises – that old chestnut

The industry is now accepting that the debate surrounding cloud versus premises will rapidly move on to a new debate surrounding what should actually be put in the cloud. Why? Because mobiles don’t have huge storage capacity and so rely on networks to get their data. The important point in this debate is that mobile BI doesn't discriminate between cloud and premises data storage.  As email has become the de-facto standard of communications for businesses, it’s only a matter of time before mobile/cloud will become the same for business intelligence delivery.

It is inevitable that there will be more pressure on mobile BI than cloud in the short-term. This will be driven by the desire of executives and travelling business people to rationalise their briefcase and remove one of their "indispensable" items. A recent study found most mobile executives carry with them (on average) a laptop, a tablet device, and two mobile phones – removing the laptop would most likely be a welcome relief.  

Cost reduction is the primary benefit of cloud, and this will start surging when senior management teams start to truly understand the benefits case, something that needs to be better highlighted by internal BI development staff. 

The issue facing cloud BI adoption is the practicalities of uploading gigabytes of data each night into the cloud. As more products are developed that collect, validate, collate and load data from a variety of sources, locations and formats to ensure effective cloud BI, companies will increasingly embrace the move. 

Mobile BI – quality and quantity

A common question surrounding mobile BI is what is the point of mobile access if you need to be at your desk to get to the good stuff?  By accessing mobile BI via the cloud businesses can enhance their own data with external data that is contextually relevant to provide a richer picture for decision making. For example sales reports for a particular region can be combined with local weather reports, electoral data etc. Mobile BI also allows real time access to updated information, sales data relevant to your current location via GPS, information on the move (even if it’s limited or in a more ‘bite-sized’ format) and access across whole business teams to critical market data. 

In addition, if you choose to control access for security reasons, it doesn’t need to impact the quality of what you are able to provide your mobile workforce. Involving the business in decisions regarding the quantity of data and analytics required ‘on the go’ also ensures that mobile BI is meaningful but low risk.

Benefitting the business

The benefits mobile BI can already be seen across organisations across Australia. By hosting data in the cloud and making it immediately accessible to business users, big data is becoming much more useable and meaningful. It is lifted from the realms of heavy-going reports and is transformed into a business commodity.

Executive level management is starting to interact and use Mobile BI on a daily basis because it understands the delivery vehicle and likes the lighter format. In turn, we are seeing a much greater value being placed on BI. This will only increase in time and should take cloud hosted mobile BI from the new buzzword of the business intelligence world to the norm.

Conrad Bates is the managing partner of business intelligence and information management company, C3 Business Solutions.

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