Business intelligence goes mobile

Corporate America is finally beginning to deliver BI where it's needed -- everywhere.

Even before his company had finished developing its first mobile business intelligence application, Manoj Prasad was deep into planning the next one.

Mobile BI

"We could immediately see [mobile] would be big for us," says Prasad, vice president of enterprise architecture, global applications and testing at Life Technologies Corp., a multinational biotech tool maker in Carlsbad, Calif.

In fact, Prasad made mobile business intelligence a 2010 strategic priority for his department. His goal was to roll out mobile applications that would allow its 800-person sales force in the field to dive deeply into data regarding the cutting-edge tools Life Technologies develops and sells to scientific researchers.

Loosely defined, business intelligence (BI) systems take vast quantities of data and put it into visually useful forms (such as graphs and charts) for sophisticated analysis of business trends.

Making that analysis mobile, most typically by tapping the power of today's sophisticated smartphones, can give companies the ability to interact in real time with their customers and business partners, thereby improving service and boosting productivity.

"All enterprise companies will start moving on the mobile path," Prasad predicts, saying that this trend will be spurred on by improvements in the ability of smartphones to display graphical information and the emergence of intuitive graphical interfaces that can better handle BI visualizations.

Mobile BI on the radar

To be sure, mainstream adoption of mobile BI has been on the horizon for a while now. Two years ago, Aberdeen Group Inc. analyst David Hatch produced a report looking at best practices in making business intelligence available on mobile phones.

At the time, only 17% of the companies Aberdeen Group surveyed said that they were delivering business intelligence data to mobile phones, though 78% indicated they were interested in doing so. At the same time, several BI vendors had introduced mobile versions of their products.

But then the recession hit, and that stymied investment in mobile BI product development and marketing, Hatch says.

What the recession didn't stop was the development of mobile gadgetry, most especially the iPhone, the iPad and the various Android phones. These new mobile hardware devices can finally handle the complexities of BI, Hatch says.

Companies are responding aggressively. In a May 2010 Aberdeen survey, 23% of the companies responding said that they now have a mobile BI application or dashboard in place, and another 31% said that they plan to implement some type of mobile business intelligence within the next year.

Users demanding mobile BI

A number of things are drawing companies to mobile BI, says Andrew Borg, a mobile analyst at Aberdeen. "It gives them real-time decision-making, operational efficiency, flexible workflow and increases their responsiveness to customers," he explains.

Delivering those benefits to employees who work in the field held obvious appeal to Life Technologies, where user demand within various departments pushed mobile BI to the top of the strategic list, Prasad says.

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