Business intelligence goes mobile

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

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Steinmann said that Fraport needed to do relatively little work to get the data from SAS 9 onto the BlackBerry platform -- some XML coding and style sheets, worked up by a student intern who did the project as part of his master's dissertation. "It was a quick and not very expensive way" to do it, says Steinmann, who later hired the intern full time.

For the mobile version of the BI system, Fraport did need to limit the quantity of the information that it made available, and it couldn't use as many graphics as it did in the desktop version. But the managers took to it. Steinmann says they use it as a way to show customers, "I have the information you need, I have it right here, and I have it in color." It also serves as a feather in the IT department's cap, he notes, since the application both looks good and works well.

A slew of apps on the way

Fraport's application is an early example of what will likely become a bigger phenomenon. "Going forward, we'll see a whole slew of apps for sales forces and field service [teams]," says Stephen Drake, an analyst at research firm IDC.

He says the BlackBerry will still be used for BI, but he notes that more companies will develop applications for devices like Apple Inc.'s iPad tablet and for powerful new phones like the HTC Evo, which has a high-definition screen that makes it easier to do analytics on a mobile device.

Meanwhile, software providers have renewed their mobile BI push, with several of the big business intelligence vendors making moves in that arena recently: SAS added a Mobile dashboard in April, SAP recently introduced versions of its BusinessObjects Explorer for the iPhone and the iPad, and IBM in June showed off a spiffed-up new interface for its Cognos Go Mobile BI product.

In addition, the field has also attracted start-ups like Del Mar, Calif.-based Mellmo and Leapfactor Inc., which operates a cloud-based service that can bring corporate BI applications to smartphones.

And Drake points out that network technology is catching up as well. That's a key development because "you couldn't use [mobile BI] over a 2G network," he says. "It used to be that you'd see these things and say, 'It looks nice in the demo, but am I really going to be able to use this?' Now, the answer is, yes"

Mobilize data to improve customer service

Samir Sakpal, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, predicts that mobile analytics will move beyond niche markets, like the financial sector, into mainstream use because, he says, it helps businesses do two things: "Make faster decisions and drive a higher quality of customer service."

The desire for better customer service drove the adoption of mobile BI at Johnson Controls Inc., according to Robert C. Weisman, a senior manager at the Milwaukee-based technology and industrial conglomerate.

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