Mobile BI: 2011 Trends and 2012 Directions

This year we’ve seen the emergence of HTML5 and the popularity of tablets. What will 2012 bring to the BI mobility market?

By Tiemo Winterkamp, SVP Global Marketing, arcplan

It has been another year of significant technological advancements, especially in the mobile space. Mobile-device innovator Apple received the most buzz and racked up the title of "Most Valuable Company" after the highly anticipated releases of the iPad2 and iPhone 4S.

Apple has changed the mobile game worldwide, setting the tone for mobile use in our personal lives -- and one could extrapolate that it indeed dictates some of what has been happening in the mobile business intelligence market. Mobile BI really took off in 2011 as the BI trend with the most buzz.

Let's examine how it played out this year and what's on the horizon for 2012.

2011 Trend #1: Mobile BI no longer just hype

There is no denying the hype around mobile BI, but how much of the talk was put into action in 2011? According to The BI Survey 10, the world's largest independent survey of BI users published in October, only 8 percent of companies using BI software access reports on mobile devices. A major reason cited for the low adoption rates is that the prime candidates for mobile BI usage -- namely executives and high-level managers -- are too busy to even run reports and would actually prefer to be fed information by someone else. In addition, security concerns (over the data and the devices) still prevail, decelerating deployment plans in corporate environments.

Nevertheless, mobile BI implementations will likely be on the upswing in 2012. According to the same BI Survey 10, 22 percent of respondents are planning to implement mobile BI in the next twelve months.

At the end of 2011, mobile BI is still in relative infancy, but we've seen proof that it's not all just hype or a figment of BI vendors' vision for the future of BI delivery. Despite the slow start, organizations are putting mobile plans into action, and the trend of utilizing more tablet PCs (such as Apple's iPad) for business makes us even more confident this will happen in 2012.

2011 Trend #2: Tablets rule

In Dresner Advisory Services' Mobile BI Market Study (February 2011), respondents identified the iPad as their primary deployment platform, and the market certainly seems to reflect that sentiment. According to its FY2011 Annual Report, Apple sold more than 32 million iPads in its last fiscal year (September 2010 through September 2011). In its third-quarter earnings call in June 2011, the company revealed that 50 percent of Fortune 100 companies are using or testing the iPad, proving its growing dominance in the business market.

The explosion of tablet PC purchases in 2011 opened up BI to a whole new platform. Whereas BI vendors previously talked about BI for smartphones, in 2011 the paradigm shifted to tablets. Analysts predicted that widespread BI adoption will be possible because of tablets, not smartphones, due to inherent inadequacies in smartphone functionality and design for larger analyses.

This was the year where convenience, ease of use, and the "cool" factor made tablets take off among the executive set. SAP deployed 3,500 iPads to employees in the field, allowing them to connect with their own business intelligence software for instantly updated information. Clearly, BI vendors are truly walking the walk when it comes to mobile BI, and even they are choosing iPads as their deployment platform.

2011 Trend #3: HTML5 becomes the new standard

Mobile BI apps in 2011 were one of two breeds: native apps or Web apps. Native apps are device-specific -- that is, they are platform and hardware dependent. Many vendors took the approach of creating pure-play native mobile BI apps that only support iPhones or iPads, but others went the way of Web apps, running their mobile apps in browsers with user interactions that mimic the native functions of their devices.

HTML5's gradual release has begun to make Web apps the new standard for mobile BI applications. Many browsers on the market -- particularly mobile browsers -- have started to adopt HTML5 functions, providing users on any device an experience similar to a native app. The difference is the ability to "develop once, deploy anywhere" -- one app works for iPhones, Blackberry and Android devices, and tablet PCs.

HTML5 is changing the mobile app landscape, but not all at once. Implementation of the new standard does vary, and at the end of 2011, native apps for iPhones and iPads still have some advantages. As mobile BI starts to move beyond the hype cycle, enterprises are looking for technologies that enable them to build ubiquitous BI applications easily and cost-efficiently -- and the new HTML5 standard will deliver. BI vendors will enhance their feature delivery as the standard matures and 2012 will surely usher in support for functionality we can only imagine today.

A Look Ahead

2012 Prediction #1: Mobile BI design standards emerge

As mobile becomes part of enterprises' BI strategy in 2012, app designers will need to understand that a mobile BI app is not an appendage of a desktop-driven analytical application or dashboard. Instead, it needs to be designed specifically for mobile devices from more than one vendor or platform. This is in sync with Boris Evelson's recommendation to "design dashboards with mobile BI in mind" in his research, A Practical How-To Approach to Mobile BI.

Vendors will need to provide easy-to-use development environments to create these new apps. Organizations will benefit from such environments with more efficient design and deployment options and a less-steep learning curve overall. As the idea of mobile-specific app design takes hold, we will undoubtedly see the reverse as well --- new app design trends and features employed by mobile devices (such as "touch," gestures, and location awareness) will be looped back into the general design concept of traditional BI apps on your desktop.

2012 Prediction #2: Mobile collaboration debuts

We've seen everything from enterprise messaging systems to SharePoint deployed on mobile devices. It seems that every business application you can dream of will soon be available for mobile. Collaboration capabilities have been left out of the mix thus far, but certainly have the potential for significant business impact. Mobile workers make up a huge portion of the workforce today -- by some estimates over 1 billion workers.

Collaborative features will take root in mobile apps in 2012, taking advantage of existing behavior learned from social media sites, such as rating, tagging, and commenting. As an enterprise's best content rises to the top via ratings and requests from employees as they work remotely and make use of reports, dashboards, and documents, the promise of better, faster decision-making will come to fruition.

2012 Prediction #3: A "big gun" will return

We have seen the tremendous success of Apple's iOS platform and the rise of Android, which has now surpassed Apple's deployment figures, but in 2012 Microsoft will boldly return with a platform specifically designed for mobile phones that incorporates a design concept for applications called metro design.

This concept employs clean typeface and balanced design for applications that are as functional as they are attractive. Its tile-based design principle will be shared among the upcoming Windows 8 platform for desktop and tablet PCs (and potentially even the Xbox 360), giving it a broad foundation for developers.

Metro design will inspire the creation of sophisticated applications that are easy and fun to use, consistently implemented across the Microsoft universe, and ready to use for touch- and gesture-driven devices. Those who have had the opportunity to test a Windows Phone 7 or Windows 8 PC will understand the potential of metro design for business applications. Business Intelligence applications that use this design concept will be created with multiple devices in mind, which will become the most efficient way to develop and deploy applications in 2012.

Best of all, metro design is not limited to Microsoft; it can be applied to any Web app and deployed on any platform. Will Microsoft change the face of app design? I'm confident that it will.

Tiemo Winterkamp is the senior vice president for global marketing at arcplan. You can contact the author at tiemo.winterkamp@arcplan.com