Mobile BI Isn’t Only About Mobile


It’s an unspoken assumption that mobile BI extends normal BI: almost all the coverage so far emphasizes the usefulness of these devices for people out of the office: on the road, or on the factory floor – and it’s hard not to agree that there is a great opportunity to bring business intelligence to new classes of users. In particular, executives spend their lives running around visiting different departments and divisions, asking people to justify (and improve) their performance. Having the dashboards at their fingertips, as they ask the questions, is an extremely powerful tool that makes the managing process more efficient (aka “if you’re finished arguing your opinions, I actually have some data…”)

But I think “mobile BI” goes further than that, and will increasingly replace existing full-client BI systems. Today’s mobile devices aren’t just small enough to stick in your pocket, they also tend to use state-of-the-art, multi-touch interfaces.  Just like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, it’s simply more intuitive and easy to access  information using your fingertips than it is a mouse. Increasingly, I find myself reaching for my iPad to access data, rather than my laptop, even when it’s right in front of me.

Today’s mobile devices are simply better for analysis, and their children will replace BI on PCs, not just augment it. Looking to the future, the lines between mobile and traditional devices is blurring fast: tablets are becoming more powerful, and supporting “traditional” operating systems like Windows, and laptops are starting to come installed with multi-touch touchpads, GPS and 3G connections. “Mobile” will no longer be a separate environment, but a seamless part of a normal rollout.

One factor, however, may delay the process. For many years, vendors have had the luxury of fairly simply platform choices in the enterprise world: Windows or a browser as the front end, Windows/Unix/Linux as the back end. But there’s been an explosion of different mobile device operating systems and multi-touch interfaces, with no end to the confusion in sight. HTML 5 will almost certainly help, but there’s a long way to go before it’s strong enough to replace existing choices for intuitive, device-optimized, multi-touch interfaces. Multiple choices means extra work for the vendors, and slower deployment/adoption of the new interfaces in enterprise environments.

  1. Thanks for the great article! As SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott has said at Sapphire 2011: “Mobile is the new Desktop”, it is so true because PC is a dying breed. Yes, you will still need the good ‘ole PC to write Java code or PL/SQL….for now. But for quick data analysis, the mobile platform will shine.

    With that being said, one major road block could be on the connectivity. Currently, the mobile device users have to either sign up for a separate data plan or resort to WiFi only. Corporations are not going to allow their mobile users to get on public WiFi when they are on-the-go because it is not safe. In order to “encourage” the wider acceptance of mobile devices in the corporate world for business analytics outside the office, the wireless carriers need to come up with a better data plan….something like sharing the data capacity between the customer’s smart phone and his/her tablet, and not to charge an insane amount of money for having multiple mobile devices.


    • I think I saw an article about a UK carrier that’s doing just that — one data plan, independent of device — so things are going the right way. And if they could fix the insane roaming fees at the same time, it would be nice — can’t believe corporate purchasers haven’t brought that down…

  2. Timo, thank you for this post, mobile BI is certainly a hot topic. You chose to mention the Minority Report in this post, and I must say I think this is an interesting choice. To me, the movie minority report was about the battle that has barely begun, and will surely intensify between technology and mankind. Can the technology we create become so advanced it can replace our common senses, or know better than our free will? When it comes to BI, I am often faced with this dilemma: is the BI solution, the dashboard or the report actually provide insight that eluded the business so far, or is it simply a nice package of a well-known fact, a way to articulate an outcome known before the experiment was conducted.. In any case, I have no doubt you are correct and mobility will continue to push BI (and other transactional systems) technologies into new horizon.

  3. You make an interesting argument. However, while I think that the mobile device will have a significant impact on how we perform analysis, and how computing is done, I don’t believe that mobile devices will replace the desktop. At least, not given how we currently use them.

    Undoubtedly, mobile devices have a solid (and growing) position in the marketplace, and absolutely make sense in certain situations: The production floor, in meetings, while in transit, etc. However, to say that users will eschew the desktop in favor of mobile, I think is a bit optimistic. Screen real estate alone is reason enough for users to prefer to the desktop for performing in-depth analysis (everything else remaining equal). Data sharing and manipulation, which possible on an iDevice, is certainly much easier on a desktop than when mobile.

    This all being said, however, I think that mobile will, and already is, having a direct impact on what we expect from our desktop machines. For example, multitouch input, touchscreen, beautiful interfaces and more will all be expected by users of the not too distant future. In effect, bringing some of the mobile experience to the desktop. Just look at what Windows 8 is shaping up to be. It’s an ease of interface combined with flexibility of use that users will want use.

  4. I agree that mobile is a big deal that is changing the way we think of user interfaces. But it is not a successor to the desktop, the way graphical user interfaces succeeded the command line. I blogged about this, if you’re interested:

    • Barney — with the launch of OS5, for example, you pinch and zoom and swipe like you do on the iPad — I find it really hard to imagine that interface designers for all devices, “mobile” and “non-mobile” (a distinction which is quickly becoming a spectrum of choices) would ignore these new opportunities….

  5. The question around mobile BI that was touch by previous posters was one of security. If you can’t get on public wi-fi, I wonder if companies will be willing to take the risk that their private corporate data is out their on a device that can be stolen or lost because the information is stored within a native app.

    In order to deal with this potential, browser based BI, where the linked dashboards URLs can be changed if a device is lost or stolen, is more ideal.

  6. Timo,
    Personally I have three scenarios — really mobile, sitting somewhere with my notebook and at a desk. I can see swiping in the first two, but not the third, because the screen is so far away.

  7. Pingback: Substituiremos o BI nos Desktops pelo BI nos Dispositivos Móveis ? | faustobacchi

  8. I’m just coming accross this post Timo, but wanted to comment because I think you nailed it. Given all of the improvements in iOS and touch interfaces, along with HTML5 there is no doubt that even today’s BI solutions will eventually go mobile.

    As of today, users expect a different experience on a mobile client and not just a porting over of their BI solution to mobile. It will be especially interesting as the intersection of today’s BI solutions and mobile solutions come to a head when mobile really does go mainstream.


  9. I believe the way we are perceiving mobile is going to be changed sooner than later.The screen real estate grows slowly with public acceptance of the more than 4.5 Inch screens and display resolution of equivalence of 720p HD.This is probably the resolution of 90% of notebooks so consuming the content will never going to be a problem.

    However still I want a even bigger screen while I do my stuff in office.So in future it seems like mobile will have all the processing capability and personal data storage platform and all the corporate data and application while being hosted in cloud will be seamlessly integrated with a bigger touch screen (just screen) just like ASUS Transformer Pad to change the form and this will have a Bluetooth keypad.

    Now BI the bigger screen the better for analytics and content creation but I don’t want to do some analysis while I am on vacation so I might be interested to consume some but not built some.

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