I see the growing adoption of tablets — by both consumers and companies — as really jump starting the corporate use of mobile BI. I base this on responses I’ve received from my Data Insight & Social BI Advisor readers, as well as from survey respondents, who have informed me that their mobile BI initiatives call for tablet devices to play a significant role, particularly for sales and field support. Tablets feature much larger screens that lend themselves very well to supporting mobile BI apps. Basically, enhanced screen size places considerably fewer constraints on the amount of information end users can download and interact with (as compared to even the most advanced smartphones). Tablets also tend to offer additional on-board processing power that can be used to enhance data visualization, charting, and other interaction capabilities. Additionally, organizations want to be able to utilize the dual cameras built into the iPad 2 and other tablets to allow employees in the field to take advantage of their video conferencing features, which will help spark increased collaboration and innovation among teams.
Another technology development that I think is going to help foster the spread of mobile BI and mobile computing in the enterprise, in general, is html 5. Most mobile apps today tend to be device specific. Users like this because it lets the app really take advantage of the device’s capabilities. But companies don’t, because many tend to use multiple platforms (e.g., iPad tablets and android phones, or vice versa as well as different vendors’ products), meaning that they can get trapped into managing different app versions. Basically, html 5 is going to allow more companies to write apps that can run on multiple mobile devices, and yet still provide highly interactive capabilities for accessing, viewing and manipulating data, in addition to all the usually expected capabilities provided by mobile devices.
The primary domains and applications in which organizations will apply mobile BI capabilities are the same ones that they have been supporting with BI all along. These fall under the traditional CRM umbrella: sales, service, and customer support. This makes sense, as most of these areas are customer-facing and extremely time sensitive. Thus, they demand rapid response to issues that can affect the bottom line as well as customer service and satisfaction.
I see organizations increasingly using mobile BI for operational support. Such applications include executive management dashboards for measuring and managing company performance, and so on, as well as for finance and accounting. HR/workforce management apps also fall under this category. Mobile apps used as upper-level business tools–typically integrated with balanced scorecards, dashboards, and other performance management applications–are already experiencing considerable use. This is because organizations are extending their existing applications by adding mobile capabilities. Expect this trend to accelerate in 2012.
Organizations will also increasingly turn to mobile BI to support their distributed mobile workforces. This includes your field service technicians and outside sales reps, and so on, as well as managers who are required to visit different sites to assess performance of stores, sales and marketing campaigns, employees, etc.
I also expect organizations will turn to mobile BI to support supply chain activities as well as transportation and logistics operations. For instance, the built-in data input readers, cameras, GPS, and location-based features of today’s advanced smartphones and tablet devices make them well suited for such mobile uses as inventory-in-the-field and for tasks related to tracking and scheduling (packages, equipment, etc.).
Many companies will initially consider the benefits of enabling existing applications with mobile capabilities. However, you should also identify new applications that take advantage of the unique capabilities afforded by mobile technology. In particular, companies should be “looking down the road” to consider the integration of mobile BI with operational systems, for it is here that I see the considerable payback (in flexibility/response, etc.) from mobile applications in the enterprise.
The bottom line is that mobility is a now strategic imperative — along with analytics, “the cloud” and collaboration, which actually all go hand in hand. Consequently, look for the use of mobile BI to ramp up in 2012 as organizations seek to extend their BI and performance management applications to provide greater numbers of users with near instantaneous, self-service access and analysis capabilities whether they are at their desk, at a client site, or stuck in traffic in a taxi.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at the potential opportunities offered by mobile BI and the technology and vendor offerings, check out my Executive Report “BI Unwired: The Case for Mobile BI“.