In my previous post on this topic, I evaluated some of the necessary components for a successful mobile BI deployment. As with any project, planning is the most important step, so let’s continue today with 3 more items to add to your mobile BI strategy checklist.
4. Platform strategy
When working out your platform strategy, you need to consider the kinds of devices you’ll deploy your mobile business intelligence on and then what decisions will be affected by those devices. Ideally, your organization would have a standard mobile device rolled out to users, enabling centralized hardware, software, and data security. But this is the real world and that train has left the station. “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) is a trend for a reason. Before the term was coined, business users were using their own mobile devices to keep in touch with work while away from their desks, and they don’t want to carry separate work and personal mobile devices. CIOs and CSOs (corporate security officers) are beginning to tentatively accept employees using their personal devices, if only for the cost savings to the organization (going back to the ROI discussion from Part I of this article). One of the implications of this platform strategy is, of course, security concerns, which I’ll address in my next article.
5. Software strategy
This is an area that will be affected by your choice of mobile platforms. If you’re lucky enough to have a standard mobile platform at your company, then native mobile BI apps will be an option for you. These are applications specifically designed to operate on a particular device, like an iPhone or iPad. They take advantage of the native gestures of the device, like pinching and zooming. However, if you might possibly switch device standards or have one set of mobile BI users on iPhones and another on iPads, consider Web apps, which are device-independent applications that can be rolled out on another platform in the future with little effort. They run through Web browsers on smartphones and tablets, eliminating the need to create separate apps for different devices.
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.
Organizations cannot appl(e)aud a vendor lock-in
Now that modern mobile devices (e.g. smartphones, table PCs) have made great strides in their rich user interfaces and people are accustomed to using them in daily life, they’re becoming ubiquitous in the workplace as well. Checking email and synching calendars to mobile devices are common tasks for business people, many of whom are hungry for richer business applications – like mobile BI apps that allow them to interact with their performance information anywhere, anytime. Mobile BI is on the top list of projects for decision support at organizations around the world, and managers are eagerly looking at solutions currently on the market and learning that they’re one of two breeds: native apps or Web apps. Which one is the future of mobile BI?
Native apps are applications that are device-specific – that is, they are platform and hardware dependent. They became necessary when Apple launched the iPhone and forced all developers to create applications specific to the device to be sold on its App Store. Since 2007, developers have created hundreds of thousands of native apps for iPhone that have been downloaded billions of times. But all of these apps need to run through the evaluation process of a single company for a single device category.
Although the iPhone has made some strides into the corporate world – managers do love these gadgets for their stylishness, ease of use, and the device-specific applications themselves – competition isn’t standing still. Many BI vendors have developed native apps to run on iPhones and iPads or have at least provided a front-end interpreter to handle BI presentation layers. But at what cost? Is it worth it for these vendors to put their focus on a single platform when there is an alternative? Does the small bit of increased functionality in a native app justify the decision to go that direction?
A recent Gartner report shows that Android will be the leading platform for mobile devices at the end of 2011 and that Microsoft, with their Nokia partnership in place, is expected to gain back a decent market share. Neither Google nor Microsoft are betting on a “walled garden” approach, but instead heavily promote Web apps.
So what makes Web apps different than native apps?