Mobile BI Comes of Age

Understanding the factors that have led to growth of mobile BI.

Introduction

When the iPhone launched in late June of 2007, it wasn’t too hard to find prominent skeptics. Many alleged technology experts doubted whether an expensive phone lacking a keyboard would be a hit with consumers, never mind the enterprise. After all, 2007 was arguably the acme of RIM’s BlackBerry hegemony. It seemed impossible that RIM would fall from grace.

How times have changed.

Fast forward a little more than three-and-half years. Today, RIM is reeling and few would doubt the transformative impact of the iPhone, what with Apple selling 37 million (yes, million) of them in the fourth quarter of last year alone. And, while Apple is still mainly a consumer play, enterprises of all sizes and types are starting to take notice and “go Apple.” A case in point: Haliburton recently decided to scrap the BlackBerry for the iPhone.

Size Matters

Yet, despite the quantum leap that the iPhone represented, it still suffered from one deal-breaking limitation for many would-be business users: screen size. In early 2010, I wrote in The Next Wave of Technologies about the challenges facing mobile business intelligence. In 2010, I claimed that mobile BI suffered from significant limitations related to its screen size, the relatively limited functionality of many of its applications, and limited disk space/processing power:

A small mobile screen may well not be the best mechanism to deliver a BI tool. Targeting company executives’ mobile devices to contain the critical metrics to keep their fingers on the pulse of the company is typically where these initiatives start. No other single business user’s time is as valuable as that of the top brass, and ensuring that the content they need is available when they need it is increasingly becoming a standard practice.

At first, mobile BI didn’t exactly explode.

A small screen clearly didn’t deter developers, though. QlikView was one of the very first companies to release a mobile BI app for the iPhone. But mobile BI didn’t exactly explode. That would come soon.

Enter the iPad

To be sure, the iPhone’s screen size and initial processing power were legitimate issues for skeptical enterprises and their risk-averse CIOs. Remember that most organizations are on the left side of the technology adoption lifecycle (TALC). And IT budgets were anything but robust at the time.

By and large, these issues dissipated when Apple followed up the über-successful iPhone with another game-changing product: the iPad. Now, for businesses of all sizes, there was a legitimate alternative to simply buying another round of desktops and laptops, especially with stalwarts like HP vacillating about whether they wanted to continue selling PCs.

Today, more and more mid-market companies are giving strong consideration to mobile BI applications and attendant devices. The reasons include the market is more mature than two years ago, the number of apps has exploded, and successful mobile BI case studies have proliferated. In the words of Gartner analyst Ted Friedman, mobile BI provides real-time, practical, and tactical information to executives.

Simon Says

No longer does an organization need to employ tens of thousands of people or make billions in revenue to “do” mobile BI, a trend that I see continuing for the indefinite future.

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I wrote this post as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program. It provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise, and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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