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Mobile BI - Reality or Fiction?

1 October 2010
Dr. Moria Levy

By Peter Evans. Published August 13, 2010, on the website https://www.databasejournal.com


Can business BI data be sent to a mobile device? Are mobile BI solutions viable? Learn which major BI vendors have begun offering mature mobile BI tools or middleware solutions that allow companies to deploy their chosen BI solutions to mobile devices.


Current State

With the latest innovations in mobile devices from Apple, Android, and Windows hitting the market, the major BI players have finally realized a demand for mobilizing data and metrics to mobile phones, allowing business managers to make informed decisions when away from the office. For many years, I have worked to develop BI applications that will enable my clients to understand company performance and where and how they can improve. I have been asked for and created reports that can be viewed on various mobile phones, including smartphones, Palm, and Windows-enabled devices, including automated mailing of those reports. However, the big stumbling block has always been real-time data delivery due to bandwidth issues and the complexity of developing an application that would work across the range of devices used within a company.


Technological advances in mobile devices, supporting data delivery to multiple platforms, and improving bandwidth and wireless connectivity enable real-time data delivery. These improvements, coupled with the adoption of MDX and XMPP technologies, ensure that the major vendors, including SAP, IBM, and MicroStrategy, will be rushing to mobilize their BI offerings on phones. In the meantime, many major software vendors have grappled with the challenge and either launched or upgraded their mobile BI applications.

Vendors

Three major BI vendors have each taken a different approach to mobile device connectivity. SAP has developed Business Objects Mobile, which allows connection to enterprise Business Objects data via a J2ME application installed on the user's device through the internet and cellular provider. The Java Midlet application downloads to the mobile device and allows the device to connect to BI data on the server and perform several select operations, such as data navigation. Reports rendered by the application are primarily those authored specifically for the small mobile screen. The system is easy to deploy, and the reports are easy to tailor for mobile delivery. However, the application does not yet support the iPhone or iPad.


MicroStrategy 9 Mobile enables iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry users to connect to various data warehouse systems, including MDX, SAP, and Oracle, providing quick access to data in a range of tailored reports. The company's team extended their infrastructure to support Apple devices while allowing users to access regular MicroStrategy reports via the iPhone's native interface. My experience with a Blackberry device sometimes frustrated me due to the screen limitations. I suspect this is not the case with Apple devices.


IBM Cognos 8 Go! Mobile allows viewing BI data on the phone without building and maintaining a separate mobile BI environment. Reports are tailored for mobile devices, with full support for mobile navigation such as touch screen and scrolling. Go! Mobile enhances the existing version of Cognos 8, enabling reports to be deployed to some mobile platforms, including Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Symbian devices. The critical component is the Mobile Service, installed on the Cognos 8 server. It transcodes reports and analyses for mobile users, compresses reports for network delivery, provides access to the same content from those devices, and translates SOAP messages so that mobile devices understand them. This service and the Mobile Content Store provide full access to all reports residing on the project server. It's a multi-tier, easy to maintain and support system. It enables fast storage and browsing of reports but still does not support the Apple infrastructure.


Other vendors marketing a mobile solution include Targit (Targit BI Suite), tailored specifically for the iPhone and iPad, MeLLmo - Roambi App for iPhone, Qlik Tech for Android, and Push BI - an internet service allowing BI data from the enterprise system to be viewed on a range of mobile devices including Blackberry and iPhone.


The Outcome

The dynamics of delivering BI data have been changing for some time. However, within the past 18 months, business managers have gotten their full complement of enterprise network data in real-time to their mobile devices. Properly managed, delivering this information could increase the demand for BI data and drive the capital investment required to produce these systems. Delivering BI on the mobile infrastructure requires ensuring the corporate mobile infrastructure is stable and supported by a single mobile provider, especially if access will be needed overseas. Security is paramount for this service due to the ease of device theft or loss, so encryption and device authentication are essential. To ensure all users receive the same reports, it is advisable to establish a single source for all report and publication data. This will ensure the information is easier to manage and can be consumed correctly.

Conclusions

Any organization wanting to operate in today's competitive marketplace requires mobile access to BI to enable managers to make quicker decisions, improve customer service, and streamline business processes. The growth of mobile BI is happening in parallel with the adoption of mobile devices capable of supporting the delivery of such data. Is mobile BI reality or fiction? BI is still an emerging field; in some organizations, it only serves as a tool for generating performance reports that determine annual bonus payouts. However, mobile BI is a core requirement for organizations using BI to improve organizational responsiveness and enable real-time, fact-based decision-making. To become a reality requires careful planning in mobile networks and BI tool selection. In any case, the future of mobile BI is indeed a reality.

A hand holding a device
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