What is Mobile Business Intelligence?

Mobile BI solutions provide access to BI information on smartphones and tablets.

Mobile BI – A definition

Mobile business intelligence (BI) is the ability to access BI-related data such as KPIs, business metrics, and dashboards on mobile devices. The concept of mobile BI dates back to the early 1990s when mobile phone use first began to become widespread. Early advocates of mobile BI immediately grasped the potential of mobile phones to simplify the distribution of business-critical data to mobile or remote workers. However, it wasn't until the advent of the smartphone that mobile BI began to generate widespread attention.

How does mobile BI relate to business intelligence?

The term business intelligence dates back to the late 1950s, but started getting traction when Howard Dresner offered up this definition of BI: "concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems" (source: Wikipedia.org). As is commonly said, BI is about having the right data at the right time to make the right call. Mobile BI addresses the use-case of remote or mobile workers that need on-demand access to business-critical data. For instance, a sales executive is able to check key metrics even if she is running a booth at a conference 1000 miles from her office.

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A Brief History of Mobile BI

The early days...

Development teams and analysts were quick to realize the potential of making business intelligence systems available on mobile devices. It wasn't until the mid 2000s, however, that smartphone technology started to catch up to the ambitions of development teams. Early iterations of mobile BI systems were constricted by the small screen size of devices like early BlackBerry or Symbian devices. Data was typically shown using tables of information which, unfortunately, made reading and using the data quite difficult.

The Mobile Revolution

When Apple introduced the first generation of its iPhone in 2007, it heralded the beginning of the mobile revolution. Screen size increased, usability and performance rapidly improved, and more people than ever before owned a smartphone. Virtually overnight, the smartphone market had changed giving developers a capable platform as well as sufficient user demand to start developing mobile BI applications. To this day, many vendors report that iPhone (along with the iPad) access accounts for the majority of smartphone access to mobile BI applications.

Present Day

Mobile access to BI applications is typically accomplished in one of two ways:

  • Using a mobile-browser to access the application on the web
  • Using a native application that is designed for a specific mobile OS (such as iOS or Android)

Each approach has its benefits and disadvantages and, in the end, it depends on the use-case and scenario to determine which is best for any given business. In either case, mobile BI is one of the hottest and quickly evolving spaces in the software industry. Its promise attracts users and is fast gaining buy-in from leading organizations and executives from around the world. The reason behind this is simple: in the rapid-fire business world of the 21st century businesses and teams rely on real-time, on-demand access to business critical information.

What's the end-game for mobile BI?

There is no doubt that mobile BI applications are rapidly evolving and are a hot commodity at the moment, but what's the end-game for these systems? Howard Dresner's independent research reveals high expectations for the growth of mobile BI. This trend is powered by not only the increasing capability of mobile technology like smartphones and tablets, but also by development teams hitting their stride and delivering solid BI platforms to mobile devices.

Mobile BI is one piece of the BI puzzle. If BI is about making better decisions using the right data, then mobile BI is about making sure that everyone – especially remote workers – has access to that data anytime, anywhere.

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