Mobile business intelligence is poised to skyrocket in 2012 and beyond. With up to 80% of users expected to access BI exclusively on their mobile device within 2 years*, mobile BI has become a critical part of many businesses’ IT strategy. As the desire for mobile BI grows, businesses are jumping rapidly into the pool – in some cases, without fully forming a long-term strategy or managing users’ expectations, which can lead to low adoption rates or ultimately project failure.
Businesses should avoid the following pitfalls as they dive into mobile BI deployments:
1) Expecting true feature parity. When users are introduced to mobile business intelligence, they may expect it to offer the feature richness they enjoy on their laptops or PCs. Unfortunately, mobile BI does not currently allow actions like “drag-and-drop,” so it will never be quite the same experience. To make up for this, mobile BI apps should leverage device-specific controls and gestures that allow for zooming in and out and should make use of large buttons and easy navigation to make the experience as user-friendly as possible. Preparing users to miss some features but embrace others is the way to ensure a smooth transition from desktop BI to mobile BI.
2) Ignoring mobile design standards. Mobile device screen resolution necessitates BI application redesign – not always a full-scale redesign of an existing BI app, but at the very least adjustments to font sizes, charts, and buttons to accommodate a smaller screen size. In addition, an app for a smartphone will have different requirements than one for a tablet. While a 9- inch tablet can display an entire dashboard at once, a smartphone BI app should limit users to a list of reports that lead to individual charts. As mobile BI grows in popularity, we will undoubtedly see organizations design their dashboards and reports with mobile in mind, enabling even easier deployment.
What changes you as a customer can anticipate over the next 12 months
You may have heard of HTML5 by now, the fifth version of the language used to present content on the web. But what’s the big deal? Let’s take a look at how HTML5 is changing the mobile BI landscape and what benefits you’re going to reap if you’re part of the 22% of organizations that are planning to deploy mobile BI in the near future.
HTML5 is a big push forward from our current version, especially with regard to how it handles media (audio, video) as well as cross-device portability. Both are key areas pertinent to BI software providers who are working in the mobile space – especially those like arcplan that are delivering “web apps” to customers – applications that run through mobile browsers on smartphones and tablet PCs, eliminating the need to create separate apps for different devices. The debate about web apps vs. native apps has been raging over the past year. Here’s my take.
Today native apps or even HTML4-based web apps require application or infrastructure customizations for every different device type or technology, which makes them cumbersome to maintain over time – cumbersome for the vendors of such software solutions, but even more so for the customers deploying applications to their field staff. Not every organization can standardize on one device, so maintenance costs for mobile BI can be high – or at least higher than expected.
But this will change with HTML5. As it matures, the authors plan to allow future HTML5 browsers to (securely) access sensor and touch information, simply eradicating most of the arguments in favor of native app development. The new functions of HTML5 will help BI vendors provide cost-efficient mobile BI options to customers so they can reuse existing desktop applications on mobile devices.
Who really benefits from mobile BI?
There’s no denying the cool factor of whipping out your iPad to show your client a demo when you’re out for coffee. And there’s no doubt that mobile devices also come in handy for managers who need to check KPIs and track expenses en route to their next meeting. A recent article by the Gartner Research Group acknowledges the growing prevalence of mobile BI in the corporate world, stating that by 2013, 33% of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices (Predicts 2011: New Relationships Will Change BI and Analytics). But when devising a mobile BI strategy for your company, consider this: will your users see real value from being able to take action on business data 24/7 or are you just providing a nice toy for individuals who can efficiently do their work behind a desk?
In all likelihood, your accounting manager and research analyst, who spend 95% of their working time behind a desk, do not need mobile BI. The task of a research analyst, for instance, may include reviewing large amounts of data and using data management techniques to analyze and report on results. A job like this requires a decent size monitor (maybe 2!) and a powerful computer with a good amount of RAM. The daily tasks of our researcher do not translate well to a mobile device; a tablet would just be a business toy for him or her. So in the interest of minimizing upfront expenses for company-wide mobile BI deployment, consider the way that people work and realize that mobile BI may not be necessary for every member of your staff.
As the term implies, mobile BI is most useful for folks who are, well, mobile: executives traveling to meetings, sales managers visiting clients, or production managers who need to review and update data while on the plant floor. These users will get the most value from mobile BI because the tasks they’ll be using it for are quick (like reviewing a client’s purchases last year on the way to a meeting with them) and likely time-sensitive. These are ideal tasks for mobile BI. Why?
I know it’s more typical to see “how to succeed” articles, but sometimes knowing “how to fail” is just as important. This is the case with mobile BI. It’s a relatively new phenomenon – accessing business intelligence apps on mobile devices like tablet PCs and smartphones – but I’ve seen enough companies fail at deploying it that I’ve developed a set of guidelines to guarantee failure, if that’s what you’re into.
So if you’d like to see your mobile BI deployment fail, read on! If you’d like to succeed and have your executives thanking you for enabling them to interact with company performance data anytime, anywhere, do the opposite of what I’ve seen so many companies do…
1) Skip ROI / Just do it.
The CFO is your company’s ATM, right? You need to purchase 100 iPads so that your cool, new mobile BI deployment can be standardized on one device (that your CEO likes), so your CFO is obviously going to cut you a check for $60,000. Obviously not. If you really want to have a standard device for accessing mobile BI apps, be prepared to answer questions about the business benefits your company will see from buying 100 iPads or how long it’ll be until the money spent is recovered through cost avoidance or cost reduction. Confused yet? Check out this recording of our webinar, Calculating ROI for Business Intelligence Projects, for step-by-step instructions you can follow to calculate the ROI of your mobile BI project.
2) Ignore existing Infrastructure.
It’s ok if you’re not sure what infrastructure your organization already has in place, right? At some point, you overheard the IT manager mention a Blackberry server but iPads are the latest and greatest so you’d rather go with iPads anyway. Good luck pitching that argument! The truth is, hardware cost is a hugely important factors for getting this project moving. If your company has already deployed Blackberry devices, go with a mobile BI solution that works for Blackberry. In the future, you may upgrade to iPads, so consider a solution that’s based on web apps – meaning the applications are device-independent and can be rolled out on another platform in the future with little effort.