Over the years, there have been several forces behind the surge of mobile devices. With the influx of devices in today’s market, unlike the limited options you were once faced with, now there is something for everyone no matter your style, color, or operating system preference. On top of this is the introduction of Quadcore to tablets, 4G, and the continuous adoption of HTML5. This proliferation of devices gave rise to the phenomenon of BYOD.
With the emergence of this trend, businesses realized they had decisions to make and quickly: Do they stick to their current policies and only support company issued devices? Do they adjust their current strategies and infrastructure to support new BYOD policies? In hindsight, with the growth of BYOD, lurks the inevitability of having to create apps for each screen for the large number of devices, which is not only time consuming but requires resources. In the end, companies want end users to be happy and productive while ensuring your IT departments sanity.
Accessing information from mobile devices is becoming second nature for business users and executives who need to be connected to performance data 24/7. We’ve seen predictions from Gartner heralding 2012 as the year of mobile BI explosion, where employees will bring their own smartphones and tablet PCs into the workplace. As the number of organizations that have implemented (or are planning to implement) mobile BI increases, there are mounting concerns about mobile security. Lack of control of downloaded applications, lack of centralized server management, and virus protection are some of the concerns that come to mind as business users tote their shiny new personal tablets to work.
Let’s examine more closely how your IT team can handle these issues:
The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon. Understandably so, many of us (myself included) have begun taking our own devices to work. Tablets and smartphones can be remarkably efficient for business users on the go, and sometimes it’s just easier to have your personal and business information on the same device. Since the company doesn’t own the device, there is no legal way of controlling what apps an individual can download. However, exposure to malicious software (malware) can pose a tremendous threat to business information. One way to address this concern is to whitelist applications so users have a selection of applications to choose from that IT approves. Employees can still use their devices at work, but within IT-sanctioned limits. IT may also ask users to install a mobile security package to help detect and remove malicious applications.
Mobile device security. Data breaches are a very real threat to data stored on mobile devices. This risk may seem obvious, but accidents do happen. Employees may inadvertently leave their smartphone or tablet in a cab, or at a Mexican restaurant while on a business trip (the arcplanner responsible shall remain nameless), complete with company confidential information.
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.
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?