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by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: February 24, 2017

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to take your work with you wherever you go. Most airlines offer in-flight wi-fi services, companies regularly issue mobile devices to employees and many cars come equipped with smartphone chargers to help us stay connected.

These signs make it clear that workspaces are no longer confined to office buildings, so why should your business intelligence (BI) solution be any different?

BI software vendors are increasingly offering or developing apps that can be used via mobile devices (e.g., smartphones and tablets). This enables business leaders to access powerful data analysis tools without a desktop computer. Such tools help interpret and visualize different kinds of data that can benefit your businesses and help you make important decisions.

In this guide, We’ll show you everything you need to know for selecting a mobile BI platform.

Here's what we'll cover:

What Is Mobile Business Intelligence?
Benefits of Mobile BI
Common Features of Mobile BI Tools
Mobile Business Intelligence Access Methods
Key Considerations

What Is Mobile Business Intelligence?

One of the biggest trends in Business Intelligence (BI) software is to offer access to applications through mobile devices. According to Gartner, enterprise mobile apps provide the convenience of data analysis in real time to better resolve issues and make immediate decisions.

Further advances in both device hardware and operating systems continue to push the capabilities of these mobile analytics tools. And as BI becomes a central component of a company’s technology strategy, many businesses are choosing to deploy mobile applications either alongside or in addition to traditional desktop systems.

mobile bi sisense

Data visualizations for smartphones and tablets from Sisense

Benefits of Mobile BI

The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has led to a rise in the number of BI applications. These applications allow users to access information and analyses while working with customers or colleagues in the field, while traveling or anytime they’re away from their desk. Users can also stay up to date with alerts and notifications.

In addition to improved access, these applications provide businesses the ability to shorten the time from question to action. Recent studies have found that managers who utilized mobile BI solutions were able to make decisions three times faster than those without them.

Here are some use cases to help you consider the benefits across industries:

  • Retail: Executives at a grocery chain can analyze sales data for specific product lines and balance inventory levels accordingly.
  • Education: A university president can keep an eye on security during campus events by remotely viewing real-time dashboard data on crowd size and reported incidents.
  • Health care: A hospital administrator who is out of town at a medical conference can still make informed staffing decisions by accessing mobile BI tools to observe room usage and provider availability patterns.

Common Features of Mobile BI Tools

The breadth and depth of a product’s BI functionalities may differ depending on the vendor’s offerings and the client’s needs. However, there are some mobile-specific functionalities that are common among many BI vendors. Here they are:

Visualizations Allows users to view, create and share graphical representations of data, such as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or other important business metrics. These visualizations include many different kinds of interactive chart types, such as scatter plots and heat grids.
Offline viewing Ensures data analysis can be performed offline by caching data onto the mobile device being used.
Touchscreen gestures Makes it possible for users to manipulate data visualizations with their fingertips. This means the software can respond to standard gestures, such as pinching the screen to minimize it or swiping to move on to the next image.
GPS integration Integrates mobile devices’ GPS data and applies it to BI functions. For example, a retail CEO visiting one of their stores could pull up that team’s sales performance data automatically on their phone based on the GPS information.

Mobile BI Access Methods

There are two ways users can access mobile BI technology:

Web-based mobile BI. In this method, users access the application through their device’s Web-browser (just as one would access any Web-based BI solution through a Web browser on any device). Users will have a consistent experience across both mobile and desktop versions of the application, with access to similar or identical data and features.

App-based mobile BI. Here, the system is accessed through a special application installed on the device. This method can take advantage of specific mobile hardware features (e.g., touchscreens). This user experience will usually be better overall than trying to access a BI application through a mobile Web-browser, but will require learning a new interface and may mean losing some functionality.

Key Considerations

Before deploying BI applications on mobile devices, you should ask yourself the following questions:

What kind of functions do you expect to use most often? It’s no secret that the screens on mobile devices have limited real estate, so it’s important to find a well-designed solution that addresses your most pressing needs. For example, if you need to consult data-driven dashboards regularly, your product’s mobile interface should require minimal scrolling and unobstructive navigation.

Do you need mobile data management? Extending BI functionality to mobile devices means more devices and users for the IT team to manage. For large organizations, it’s important to have a mobile data management strategy that defines how applications and updates are pushed to users, how to troubleshoot hardware and software malfunctions and how to access the data if the device is misplaced or stolen.

Who gets access? Businesses will have to define who gets access to these applications—and to which modules. For example, executives can utilize advanced reporting functionality to relay results to pertinent parties and monitor performance by utilizing dashboard features. Similarly, management teams can access dashboards and visualizations to share with colleagues and clients.

Should you invest in Apple devices? While mobile BI applications often support multiple device platforms (e.g., iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, RIM BlackBerry and Windows Phone), many vendors have made Apple the focus of their mobile strategy. In the most recent Mobile Business Intelligence Market Study conducted by Dresner Advisory Services, several leading BI vendors—including IBM, Information Builders, Jaspersoft, MicroStrategy, Oracle, SAP and others—listed the iPhone and iPad as two of the top three platforms these vendors are prioritizing.

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