The technology gaps between mobility and business intelligence

Will Kelly highlights how the technology gaps between BI and mobile devices are closing along with the cultural gaps, in the second of a two-part series.

Mobile business intelligence (BI) is transforming how executives and other business users can access critical data about their businesses. There are gaps between BI technologies and mobile devices, and leaders in the BI industry were willing to share their insights. I spoke with Quinton Alsbury, co-founder of Roambi; Francois Ajenstat, senior director of product management at Tableau Software; Dan White, senior product manager, TIBCO Spotfire; and Ran Van Riper, SVP, global services, GoodData about the current state of cultural and technology gaps between enterprise mobility and BI. In my previous TechRepublic article on mobility and BI, I discussed the cultural gaps. In this article, I will focus on the technology gaps.

Here's a look at some of the technology gaps that are closing between enterprise mobility and BI:

On-premise versus the cloud platforms

BI comes from on-premise roots and the domain of specialists. Executives would have to make a request to the IT department to run a report on a particular set of corporate data. An IT staff member would then have to create a report and often time revise the report to meet the needs of the executive. Van Riper sees the move of BI platforms to the cloud has helped close the BI and mobility gaps because the cloud expedites data acquisition and transformation. It also means no more platform hardware acquisition.

Mobile device hardware

Alsbury and Roambi have been at mobile BI since the beginning so he cites mobile device improvements that now make them capable of presenting and interacting with data. Formally, you had to be using a desktop PC or laptop, which wasn't feasible to use inside of certain scenarios.

Mobile versus browser-based apps

Roambi has been around since 2008 and was started explicitly for the iPhone according to Alsbury. They started with an iPhone app, later added iPad support, and recently launched an Android app.

"First and foremost you can't have a solution that's browser based, Alsbury said. "Its really easy to say we have a reporting tool in Flex or HTML 5 and anybody can access it from any device ... that's not necessarily true."

A native mobile app also lets the user continue working if they lose signal strength or their connection altogether. You don't get that with a browser-based app.

User interface

The complexities and cryptic interfaces of early BI reporting tools kept them the domain of IT specialists and trained report writers. Van Riper cites the improvements in user interfaces as helping to make data more discoverable and usable to the business user. While analysts can still setup reports, end users can also create reports unlike back in the pre-BI mobile app era.

"The whole question started as an interface one," Alsbury said.

"When we started the company with the mission to create a really incredible interface for interacting with data on an iPhone which has a 3" x 2" screen," Alsbury said. He said they saw that the power, data storage, but somebody still needed conceptualize the new touch navigation experience.

"But then as we got going we really had to indoctrinate ourselves in what making a mobile solution really meant," Alsbury said. "That got us to think how people interact with mobile devices and what types of context they are in when they have their mobile phone and not their laptop."

Growth of social

Enterprise mobility and cloud BI platforms now include social tools that enable users to comment on corporate data.

"Our customers have found the social component of Spotfire to be transformative to their businesses," White said. "Suddenly, business data is truly democratized--viewable by everyone, not just the data high priests. Spotfire Mobile Metrics allows full governance over who can see what, and who can comment on what, but some of our more forward-looking customers have chosen to keep it wide open, giving all employees a voice (and accountability) for the highest level business metrics. Great ideas can come from anywhere.

Completing an ecosystem?

"Closing the gap is maybe not the word I would use, " Ajenstat said. He countered my view on the current state of enterprise mobility and BI with a fresh perspective that really it's about completing an ecosystem.

"Mobile is a really important element of people's daily lives, but it's only part of the ecosystem," Ajenstat said. "Therefore and this author once consume anywhere makes the device seamless in that deployment."

"There are different use cases in an organization where we the usage of tablets for mobile analytics is at the executive suite," Ajenstat said. "It's the primary device that people use. Then there's the mobile sales force scenario where users need to get their data on the go."

"We also see it in terms of the retail scenario where you have a store manager," Ajenstat said. "The company is trying to put them more in front of customers than in the back office. The tablet is actually a great way of making them mobile and making them connect to their customers yet still have all their vital business information at the ready."

The device should just work according to Ajenstat.

Final thoughts

The gaps between mobility and BI are closing as improvements in data platforms, mobile apps, and user interfaces are growing and evolving to meet user needs. Someday, I imagine we will reach the point where "the tablet is the deliverable" for data and traditional data report writing joins information technology history.