Earlier this year I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion at Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG) COLLABORATE15 on mobile business intelligence (BI). The process of preparing for the discussion was an interesting one. There is quite a bit of research on mobile and a decent amount of thought as to what should and should not be presented in a mobile fashion. However, there are not a significant number of companies stepping forward and speaking about their successful mobile business intelligence efforts.
In my preparations, I found that the largest use case for mobile BI was in situations where the job took employees “on the road.” Frequently, this is the case with a salesforce, but mobile BI usage did appear in other customer service, travel-oriented positions. In these cases, the employees frequently use company-issued devices and use the reporting platform to review personal metrics or to retrieve quick information on the customer they are traveling to see. The metrics and reports are focused on fairly narrow data set and are structured. Key performance indicators (KPIs) regarding personal or customer success are on display as well as trends, comparisons against benchmarks, and recent activity reviews. The mobile device itself varies. In some cases, the mobile platform is a smartphone, but in other cases it is a tablet.
This brings us to “Big Question Number 1.” “What is Mobile Business Intelligence?” Is it reporting and analytics simply delivered on a mobile device? Or is it similar to those news sites that offer a “mobile version” where BI is reimagined to fit on a smaller screen?
The answer really depends on the information in question, as well as the mobile platform used for delivery. A smaller device such as a smartphone requires simple graphics and metrics organized in such a way as to be viewed on the smaller screen. However, when the mobile device is a tablet or a tablet that acts as a computer such as a Surface (or for that matter, a computer that acts as a tablet such as the Lenovo Yoga), then the real estate for information display is significantly different. A dashboard or even visual analytics can display properly on the larger mobile screen and the user can consume information in much the same way as they would on a laptop in their office.
So…the answer to “Big Question Number 1” is, “It depends.”
Let’s move on to “Big Question Number 2.” “What information SHOULD be displayed on a mobile device?” Should mobile only be used for our commonly found use case of road warrior employees? What about those executives asking to have mobile access to critical business information? Should all metrics and all reports be accessible in a mobile fashion?
Some would answer, “Why not?” We live in a mobile-focused society where employees bring laptops, tablets, and cell phones into meetings and regularly answer emails simply walking the halls at work. Checking email and preparing for the day while at home or on the train is a common occurrence so why not put more information into the hands of the staff?
However, the implications of this question keep IT organizations and legal teams up at night. What happens if key business metrics are displayed on a mobile device in a public setting such as the train station, airport or even the side of a soccer field and a competitor is able to see this information? Worse than seeing, what if someone can take a photo with his or her own mobile device and use this information? Does the reward justify the risk? How do we make employees responsible for when and where they access business intelligence?
The risk is small in the use case of our road warriors who are accessing either personal metrics or customer metrics. In fact, customer metrics may even be something a sales person or customer service representative shares with the customer to enlighten them. But corporate metrics? Financial reports? Key metrics on the performance of a pilot program? This may be too much… taking things too far…
This brings us to the answer to “Big Question Number 2.” “It depends…on the organization, their business model and the information security policies and procedures put into place.”
This is the point where you may feel some frustration that I haven’t provided clear answers to the big questions. I hear you. The concept of “mobile BI” is about as clear as mud.
I do think that one element is clear, however. Mobile is a platform for providing BI.
The reason it becomes confusing is that “mobile” is not one platform but many platforms that vary in size and shape. The business questions being answered aren’t significantly different than those being answered on a laptop. There is just a lot more to think about when BI is portable; when it sits on a device that is more easily lost or stolen than your typical laptop; and when the password to that device is often something simple that even our children recall. What is that saying, “If it was easy, everyone would do it?”
That pretty much sums it up. If it were easy, then every company would already have a mobile BI solution. If your company has one in place, that is wonderful and I hope your team has thought through the answers to the big questions above. If you don’t have mobile BI in place yet but you want to, then hopefully this will help your team prepare. At the end of the day, like so much else in the BI space, success only partially lies in the technology used to deliver the solution and truly lies with in the business processes and information management related to the solution.
Want help with your organization’s mobile BI strategy or solution implementation? Contact the Performance Architects team at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to talk.