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Mobile BI now a must-have, thanks to handheld devices and iPads

Karen Goulart

Business intelligence (BI) has been delivered to handheld devices for years. But with the advent of smarter smartphones, the iPad and tablet computers, mobile BI is coming into its own. "People don't live at their desks," said Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect at Kroll Factual Data Inc. "It's not just executives, it's really everybody. You just can't be tied to a desk anymore."

We're not going to call it mobile BI in the future; we're just going to call it BI.

And people aren't. By 2013, just 33% of BI features will be consumed via handhelds, Gartner Inc. predicts. Business intelligence is the third most popular application for enterprise mobile devices after email and calendar apps, according to a 2011 survey by BI analyst Howard Dresner, president and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services LLC in Nashua, N.H. In a survey of 170 respondents from global social media outlets and from communities maintained by the consultancy, 68% deemed mobile BI "critical" or "very important," compared with 52% in 2010.

"It's higher than CRM [

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customer relationship management], it's higher than ERP, it's higher than social media," Dresner said, adding that mobile BI's high level of enterprise adoption isn't surprising: "By virtue of the fact that the information is now going to follow you around, it really helps keep you focused on what matters, what's actually happening right now; and it serves to align people with the strategy of the organization."

Mobile business intelligence will be simply 'BI'

Mobile business intelligence is nothing new for Steffen's company, a subsidiary of risk consultancy Kroll Inc. in Loveland, Colo. It embarked on implementing a mobile BI strategy three years ago, building its own apps.

"We had an initiative to do a lot of our dashboarding and such on a mobile app, and we completed that; now we use it to the point where it's so commonplace, I don't even think about it anymore," Steffen said. Soon, many IT leaders will feel the same way about mobile BI, analysts predict, thanks to the proliferation of handheld devices."We're not going to call it mobile BI in the future; we're just going to call it BI," Dresner said. "Right now, every relevant vendor has an offering and there is substantial ongoing investment on the part of the supplier community."

Who benefits most from mobile BI?

For executives, who often spend time out of the office on handheld devices, iPads and so forth, mobile business intelligence provides a finger on the pulse of the business. It's also a natural fit for sales, the most "nomadic" members of a business. "The advantage to them is to see the immediacy of relevant information before they have a customer or prospect encounter -- that's really powerful stuff," Dresner said. "And then it's going to filter out from there, because anyone that uses BI has the need for mobile BI."

The executive level is where Kroll first focused its mobile business intelligence strategy, and the company has branched out since. Through mobile BI apps, its executive team can access a snapshot of what's going on in the business environment at any given time, Steffen said.

"That sounds like a lot of information -- and it is a lot of information -- but we actually do a lot of our trending and forecasting on some of the information we get out of our BI applications," Steffen said. For example, the accounting department can tell nearly to the penny how much money the company is expected to make at any given time based on the trending of mortgage applications, credit reports and other products, he said.

"Get [a mobile BI strategy] started today," Dresner said. "There are some really significant advantages in terms of operational efficiency, in terms of competitive differentiation, in terms of alignment with a strategy, that you want to afford the organization right now. You don't want to wait."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.