The State of Mobile Business Intelligence

In today’s fast paced tech environment, if you don’t have a mobile strategy in place, you’re in the wrong industry. Smartphones and tablets have decidedly changed the way humans interact with devices as well as each other. Expectations have slowly but steadily escalated – users want data here and now, accessible simply by a flick of the thumb to be empowered always.

That leads us to the topic of visualization on mobile and touch-based devices. With limited real-estate, how do you design visualizations for these devices? How different would it be to interact with data using the fingertips? Where are the opportunities? Even though it is still in a fairly nascent stage of adoption and proliferation, mobile BI has gained substantial traction over the past three or four years with SMBs beginning to see the clear benefits of real-time mobile analytics. Gartner predicts explosive growth: 2015 promises a 20% rise in mobile BI users with over 50% solely dependent on mobile for their insights.

Why Business Intelligence Is Meant For Mobile

Most business users’ day starts with some standard questions: How is the stock market performing today? How is the tornado warning going to affect me? What was the outcome of the poll? And most of these questions can be answered immediately with a smartphone. So why expect anything short when it comes to our businesses? Sales figures by warehouse or by date, marketing budgets by product categories and so on can be pulled up at whim for a go/no-go decision. The right set of tools and apps should help answer these enterprise BI questions with ease.

Over the next three years, experts envision data visualizations to become simpler yet more effective and pervasive through the tablet/smartphone platform. Visual storytelling becomes a compelling and powerful tool that reveals correlations effortlessly. The mobile platform will only enhance and enliven the visual exploration experience through collaboration and social sharing. The industry is moving away from 3rd part desktop business analysis tools to in-house hosted dashboarding (applying visual analytics on big data as well as real time data) that reveal a desire toward more self-service capabilities since the ‘dumb’ front-end translates to a much lower learning curve on the visualization/analysis part.

Quora Talks Mobile BI Tools

When it comes to BI, there is no cure-all. Industry specific tools matter and what works for one enterprise may not work for another. Also, BI does not make sense in isolation: integration with specialized tools and broader business processes (finance, marketing, operations etc.) make for a richer storytelling experience.

A Quora search of some of the most respected mobile BI tools and what they stand for revealed some results:

Jaspersoft

Jaspersoft is very mobile device friendly with easy interaction through its default BIsuite interface. With an opensource iPad/iPhone application, Jaspersoft delivers the complete ETL/BI solutions which can be implemented in-house  (IT) or in the cloud (subscription based). In addition, an independent product vendor can embed Jaspersoft BI suite in their offering.

Pentaho

Pentaho is an open source based BI suite offering reporting, ETL, dashboards and data mining capabilities. It offers free community edition with online community support through forums and wikis and an enterprise suite encompassing all BI modules. It supports scripting and scheduling the execution of these scripts, thus enabling the implementation of business rules.

Yellowfin

A most impressive feature of this BI suite is its scalability — one customer can run 180,000 users of just a handful of servers, so it is ideal for large community deployments. It also allows for collaboration/social sharing of information on the reports and dashboards through a Facebook-like interface. Results can be presented through a PowerPoint style interface at monthly meetings. The suite comfortable deploys across all mobile devices.

RoamBI

RoamBI is an ideal visualization tool for small firms because they provide a free version to design and experiment with simple BI services as well as a relatively inexpensive professional version. Data from Google Docs can be imported to the iPad to produce interactive visualizations. It can also pull in data from Excel spreadsheets, FileMaker databases and plain .csv files. They now enjoy a sweet spot as add-ons to existing reporting solutions given how well they sit with BO and MSBI.

Microstrategy

Microstrategy is an enterprise BI solution with broader categories. With a compelling native iOS application, Microstrategy’s solution can leverage device API’s better than competitors who use HTML5. Even when it comes to offline (cached data) usage, there are benefits of working with a native app. They have larger caches than HTML 5 currently supports.  The personal cloud enables dashboard creation and sending to the iPad is a no-hassle task. Also, MicroStrategy is investing a lot on self-service BI.

QlikView

QlikView lets you easily create applications for your business users that are seamlessly accessed from both desktops/laptops and iPads.  The server recognizes the point of origin and delivers the same app through browser based, device agnostic HTML5 technology.

More importantly, the apps allow business users without data modeling expertise to search and analyze across a full set of live data.  This is very different than reporting based architectures such as RoamBI.

Tableau

Tableau Software is a good BI tool for growing SMBs – starting off with smaller deployments is easy and can be grown as required.

Ultimately, experts agree that the choice of tool rests on your requirements and what you’re trying to achieve through business intelligence.  Some quick pointers to look at would be offline access which may limit choices of tools and increases security considerations; level of IT support which could determine the tool of choice since some tools allow business users to author reports with limited IT support; and broader IT requirements that take into account the enterprise’s mobility strategy.

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