11 Tips for Successful Mobile Business Intelligence

Jennifer Schiff

Updated · Jan 31, 2012

Whether you are considering a mobile business intelligence (BI) strategy or recently deployed a mobile solution, the following 11 tips from leading business intelligence experts can help you get a better return on your mobile business intelligence investment.

Create a use case. Before you invest in a mobile business intelligence solution, ask yourself “Why do I need it?” stated Boris Evelson, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst serving business process professionals and author of the 2011 study “A Practical How-To Approach to Mobile BI.” “While it’s hard to discount the ‘cool’ factor of mobile BI, emphasize tangible benefits and build a strong business case before proceeding. If you don’t, mobile BI apps will be relegated to nothing but toy gadgets of executives and salespeople with limited to no business value or impact,” Evelson said.

Identify primary users. “Right now probably the biggest adopters of mobile BI are executives and the sales organization,” said Howard Dresner, chief research officer, Dresner Advisory Services. “So you want to automate those people who are going to get the most utility most readily.” In many organizations, this is sales professionals who find access to up-to-date information helps them better serve their clients. In addition, Dresner noted, if executives understand the value of mobile business intelligence, it will be easier to automate the rest of the organization.

Make it easy for mobile users to find the data they need. “When your users are mobile, you can’t assume they have time to dig in. So make it easy for them,” said Ellie Fields, director of Product Marketing, Tableau Software. “Allow drill-down. Provide filters that let them find location-specific information, like filters on city or customer. Provide content search so they can find the right dashboard to begin with, because if users can’t find the data, it’s useless.”

Link to the rest of your enterprise’s mobile strategy. “When evaluating and selecting a mobile BI platform, consider whether it can be seamlessly integrated with your mobile ERP, CRM and other enterprise applications,” recommended Evelson. “Additionally, make sure that your mobile BI provider offers an open software development kit (SDK) so that you can integrate mobile business intelligence with your other third-party or even custom-developed mobile applications.”

Build once, deploy everywhere.  “To gain the benefits of wide business intelligenc usage, the ‘BI Builder’ has to keep up with user demands,” said Brian Gentile, CEO, Jaspersoft.  For that reason, Gentile recommended “not creating special, mobile versions of reports and dashboards, making it difficult to keep up with user changes and new requests.” Instead, create a single report or dashboard that can be viewed “on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device (at least one with sufficient screen real estate).”

Carpe interface.  Just as you shouldn’t assume your website will look and function the same on a mobile device as it does on a computer monitor, your desktop- or laptop-based business intelligence software may not render properly on a smaller mobile device. So instead of moving an existing desktop application to a mobile device and expecting users to get value from it, said Dresner, take some time to think about the mobile platform and interface and design the end user experience accordingly.

Less is more. “The principle of minimalist design is even more critical when it comes to mobile applications as visual real estate is limited,” said Karl Van den Bergh, vice president of Product and Alliances, Jaspersoft. “This design constraint has a natural forcing function for the business in that it requires identifying the core metrics that are truly most important for an organization to track. True to the aphorism, companies will find that fewer key metrics, well chosen and monitored, can have a bigger impact on operations than an overabundance of data.”

Talk to your existing business intelligence vendor about mobile capabilities before you consider a specialty vendor. “That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider one of those specialty [mobile business intellgence] vendors,” said Dresner. Many of them are very good. But before you go that route, he advised evaluating your current business intelligence vendor’s mobile capabilities, because “you don’t want to do a rip and replace because of this.”

Do a pilot/proof of concept. “A best practice for proofs of concept/pilot/prototype (not just for mobile, but for any business intelligence app) is to: create a list of all potential mobile BI apps; rank them by priority; rank them by cost/effort; [and then] pick the lowest cost/effort, highest priority application,” Evelson said.

Make sure you have infrastructure support. If you plan to deliver mobile business intelligence to hundreds or thousands of users, Dresner advised thinking about server and network capacity. “You better think about how you’re going to serve the information up to the users as quickly as conceivably possible. Why? Because if I’m going into a customer meeting or a supplier meeting or a prospect meeting, I need the information right now – not five minutes from now. So you have to plan for the appropriate infrastructure,” he said. Similarly, you need to ensure you have someone monitoring the infrastructure who can make adjustments and fixes as necessary.

Don’t forget mobile security. Both Dresner and Evelson emphasized the importance of keeping mobile data – and devices – secure. So before you deploy mobile business intelligence software, make sure your devices and critical business data are adequately protected from loss and/or security breaches.

A note about Web (or browser-based) apps vs. native (or downloadable) apps: A debate is raging within the mobile community regarding whether it is better for organizations to deploy browser-based or native apps.

Jaspersoft’s Van den Bergh, for example, argued, “go browser when and where you can,” noting that “HTML5 and network bandwidth have improved dramatically over the past year, resulting in browser-powered mobile apps that look and feel like native applications.” Moreover, he noted that such a browser-based approach “is often more secure and can lessen the burden and costs related to updates and device support.”

Dresner, on the other hand, is in the downloadable app camp – at least until “HTML5 and CSS3 [truly] behave and appear like native apps.” Right now, he argued, “downloadable apps provide the user with a much more rewarding experience” and end users prefer them, as his recent Mobile BI Market Study revealed.

Evelson’s suggestion: “Don’t lock yourself too deeply in a specific mobile technology or platform.”

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to EnterpriseAppsToday.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping small and mid-sized businesses.

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