Business Intelligence (BI) is becoming a strategic tool for businesses as they try to navigate through the current economic shoals by staying up to date on critical business data. Now, tablets can take the advancements of the dashboard to a mobile form factor.

In fact, mobile BI apps can help democratize business intelligence and put instant access about sales, logistics, product, and customer data into the hands of mobile workers, like sales people and field engineers. In addition, you don’t need to be a report writer to pull data out of a mobile BI app, which makes it an ideal tool for an executive team who might lack the technology skills but still need access to corporate data.

Mobile BI is typically sold as an add-on module to an existing BI platform. This can be a costly add-on that often takes an outside professional services engagement to get online and running for your company.

Promise vs. limitations

Be prepared to cut through the hype surrounding mobile BI right now. I recommend starting with your current BI vendor for acquiring a solution. You should also take a walk through the App Store and Google Play market to see what major BI vendors are already at work on mobile BI apps.

While the promise of instantaneous access to corporate data is opening many corporate eyes to mobile BI, it is not without its limitations, including:

  • Many mobile BI apps allow users to only view data, not manipulate it
  • Mobile BI apps are tools of consumption, not analytics
  • Lack of interactivity in mobile BI apps in general restricts users from drilling down into data, such as sales figures by product or region
  • Companies often have more than one BI platform in house, requiring mobile users to have multiple apps — and mobile access is sometimes a fee-based add-on to an existing BI platform

With the latest release of the iPad and next-generation Android tablets, mobile BI vendors have the opportunity to take advantage of robust screens and hardware specifications.

Different mobile BI approaches

Tablet-specific client apps have been the traditional path for existing enterprise applications to make the leap to tablets, but that’s not always the case with mobile BI. There are two approaches to extending BI out to tablets:

  • Native tablet clients like SAP Business Objects Experience, Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile, or Birt Mobile Viewer. These apps are available as free downloads from the App Store and/or Google Play.
  • Tablet-optimized application interfaces (fortified by HTML 5) are becoming a popular option. They enable tablet users to access BI data directly from their tablets without the need for a client app.

A sign of hope for mobile BI is Roambi (see Figure A), a developer of mobile data visualization tools, that can tap into multiple BI platforms — including SAS, Microsoft, IBM, Sybase, and SAP — and present the data in one interface on a tablet. Hopefully, more vendors will follow suit.
Figure A

The Roambi iPad app takes advantage of the new iPad’s Retina display.

Choosing a mobile BI solution

Here are some requirements to consider when choosing a mobile BI solution to extend your enterprise BI platform to your tablet users:

Ubiquitous dashboard: Look for a mobile BI solution that has a dashboard that performs the same way on tablets as it does on PCs.
Flexible reporting: Look for a mobile BI solution that lets your tablet users build new reports or dashboards on an ad-hoc basis to meet spontaneous customer meeting requirements or other on-the-spot reporting scenarios.
Adaptability to a range of devices: If your company is going Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), make it a requirement that the BI data can render on multiple device types. Look for a solution with iOS and Android clients or that uses HTML 5 for its web interface.
Tablet-level security: Consider a mobile BI solution that doesn’t store corporate data on the device. Back that up with a mobile device management (MDM) tool that lets your IT staff wipe any corporate tablets that access corporate BI platforms in the advent the tablet is lost or stolen. Additional security factors to consider include device encryption, pin codes, and email encryption.
Secure communications: The transmission of corporate BI data requires data transmission security like a VPN connection or Secure Socket Layers (SSL) security with another layer of security like AES or DES with an encrypted SSL tunnel over Wi-Fi or 3G/4G.
Network security: Another level of security that needs to be present is network security to control access rights to BI data. Extending an enterprise BI platform to tablets requires security like LDAP or Active Directory to ensure the proper authentication of tablet users seeking to access the enterprise BI platform.

Corporate tablets as a BI tool

While mobile BI is still at the early stages, cutting through the hype and embracing it now puts a competitive advantage into the hands of your enterprise tablet users. The immediate access to corporate data mobile BI brings to tablet users can help them be more responsive to prospective and current customers.

Do you use a mobile BI app on tablets in your organization? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.