Mobile BI: Actionable Intelligence for the Agile Enterprise

The global economic downturn may have slowed, but it is not over. Yet in some respects, it appears more of a global restructuring than simply a global slowdown. It has already substantially realigned markets and galvanized economic changes that were nascent before the recession.

As a consequence, industry-leading organizations are seeking an advantageous position for the updraft that is expected as the recovery picks up momentum in 2011. Significantly, the Aberdeen Business Review found that 57 percent of companies had seen their customers become more demanding since the onset of the recession.

During this restructuring period, Aberdeen has been documenting the practices of these industry leaders as measured across multiple performance metrics. Among the significant changes documented, chief among them has been the rise of enterprise mobility as a strategic and operational imperative. The March 2009 Aberdeen benchmark report “More Mobility — Less Budget: Enterprise Strategies in the Current Economic Downturn” reported that 84 percent of responding organizations already had a mobility initiative in place, with less than 2 percent without any mobility plans within the next 12 months.

Time to Mobilize

The November 2010 report “Enterprise-Grade Mobile Applications: Secure Information When and Where It’s Needed” described the typical evolution of enterprise mobility initiatives from email to enterprise-grade mobile apps. It found that over a third of Best-in-Class survey respondents had already mobilized their business intelligence (BI) applications, 80 percent more than all other respondents, defined as the total of Industry Average and Laggard organizations (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Beyond Email in Mobile Applications

By extending the reach and usage of their existing BI infrastructures to mobile devices through the use of mobile visualization tools such as dashboards, charts and graphs, organizations can more agilely respond to market changes and customer needs. This accelerates time-to-information and improves customer satisfaction and retention.

The strong commitment to mobile BI exhibited by Best-in-Class organizations is apparent in several of the processes that they have in place to deploy and support mobile BI effectively.

Figure 2: Key Mobile BI Processes

Safe and Secure

By definition, mobile BI disseminates highly sensitive and confidential information regarding the organization’s business performance to mobile devices, which are often vulnerable to loss or theft. As a consequence, a mobile BI deployment shouldn’t be considered enterprise-ready unless security of the data on the device, data in transmission and data on stored media is assured.

Best-in-Class organizations are almost twice as likely as all other companies to have policies in place for management and security of the device, a necessary first step in securing the mobile infrastructure.Best-in-Class organizations are also more likely than other organizations to ensure that the managers who are the ultimate users of the mobile BI initiative are closely involved in all aspects of the project.

This is essential for any BI application — not just mobile — to be effective and widely adopted. It is an essential step in ensuring that end-users’ BI needs are effectively addressed and their business requirements fully met. Business managers should be involved in formulating requirements and ultimately sign-off on completion of the project during the Quality Assurance (QA) process. In addition, prior Aberdeen research (Operational Dashboards Drive Profits and Customer Retention) has highlighted the value of an iterative approach where developers work closely with business users throughout the development process.

Points of Failure

Too often, business intelligence projects fail when decision makers (who are the ultimate users of the BI solution) are not intimately involved from start to finish. Without this close involvement, the project can miss the target in many ways.

For example: the project may deliver information that is simply not useful for managers; only deliver partial information; not update information in the timeframe needed by the business; or provide information in a format that is less than optimal — such as a tabular report instead of a visual dashboard. BI projects that suffer from these shortcomings frequently end up being little-used by business managers and, as a consequence, ultimately waste development resources without providing measurable benefits to the business.

Best-in-Class companies are also more than twice as likely to have a standard project plan in place for the delivery of mobile BI deployments compared to All Other organizations. Developing a standard approach is an efficient way to ensure consistent deployment and ensure that all necessary steps for a successful implementation are undertaken. It is a necessary step to move mobile BI out of the experimental stage and into large-scale deployments. The fact that half of Best-in-Class companies have already adopted this type of approach is another indication that these top performers have moved beyond the pilot phase and are moving into more widespread business adoption.

Finally, almost half of the Best-in-Class (46%) have a process in place to automatically push BI reports to mobile devices on a pre-determined schedule. After initial configuration, this capability can serve basic management information to business management without additional workload being placed on IT staff. This is ideal for organizations that need to generate routine reports on a recurring basis and distribute them to users on the move. Examples would include daily customer project updates, manufacturing performance or inventory levels. The alternative to the automated distribution of routine information is to manually refresh each report and distribute it — a process which inevitably requires some intervention by the IT organization. Only 23% of all other enterprises have this capability.

Andrew Borg is a senior research analyst for wireless and mobility at Aberdeen Group. David White is a senior research analyst in Aberdeen's business intelligence practice.

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