TDWI Report Explores Challenges, Lessons Learned from Mobile BI Deployments

A new report from TDWI discusses the how and the why of mobile BI.

A new report from TDWI could serve as a one-stop primer for the how and the why of mobile business intelligence (BI).

The TDWI report, Mobile Business Intelligence and Analytics: Extending Insight to a Mobile Workforce, highlights the lessons gleaned from existing mobile BI and analytic deployments, discusses the challenges -- immediate, imminent, and longer term -- of mobilizing BI, and explores the why of BI mobility.

This last is perhaps the most important question of all. As TDWI Director of Research David Stodder writes, there's no point in going mobile for mobile's sake -- that is, simply to expose (by any means necessary) BI and analytics to mobile-toting end users.

"The prospect of rolling out enterprise-class BI and analytics on mobile consumer devices gets IT managers excited -- but not necessarily in a good way," he writes, citing a raft of IT concerns, including data privacy, security, and availability. "What's critical ... is to enable BI and analytics to thrive by making best use of what is 'insanely great' about mobile devices," Stoddard continues, quoting the late Steve Jobs. "Many of the touch, content-interaction, and collaboration features that make tablets and smartphones so appealing for consumer use could also revolutionize the experience of BI, particularly for nontechnical users."

Coming Soon to an Enterprise Near You

Mobile BI and its spectrum of benefits and challenges isn't a strictly horizonal issue.

Almost two-thirds (61 percent) of respondents to a recent TDWI Research survey said they expect users will spend more time consuming mobile BI or analytics over the next 12 months; just 24 percent expect this percentage to remain at its current level. What's more, writes Stodder, the vast majority of shops -- a full 70 percent -- regard mobile BI and analytics as an "important" component of their BI and analytic growth strategies. (Of this tally, more than a quarter -- 28 percent -- described mobile BI and analytics as "very important.")

One of TDWI's most intriguing findings is that IT does have a surprising degree of control over an organization's mobility strategy. It's intriguing precisely because it flies in the face of the popular stereotype or (even) caricature of mobility in the enterprise in which mobility is depicted as a user-initiated fait accompli -- as something instigated by users (often over the objections of IT) and as outside the control of IT.

This is true to some extent. In a sizable percentage of shops -- nearly a quarter (24 percent) -- the preferences or behaviors of users dictate the prevailing mobility strategy.

The most common model, however, is one in which IT has complete control over the selection and deployment of mobile devices. This is the case in just under half (42 percent) of all organizations. Less common -- but still more popular than the user-takes-all model of the popular imagination -- is a scheme in which users are permitted to select or request their own devices but which must have IT approval before being provisioned for business use. Thanks to the huge installed base -- to say nothing of the traditional IT-friendliness -- of Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry platform, many users are still steered toward BlackBerry devices, which tied for second with Google Inc.'s Android platform (behind Apple Inc.'s iOS platform) in TDWI's survey.

Before You Go Mobile

Although organizations expect to increase their use of mobile BI over the next 12 months, right now, comparatively few have equipped or enabled BI or analytics for mobile-toting end users. Just under half (43 percent) say that fewer than a quarter of their users are consuming BI and analytics tools.

"While this number appears to reinforce the widely held impression that mobile BI still has not broken out in most organizations, the research results also show that in 22 percent of organizations, between one-quarter and one-half of users are implementing BI and analytics, and in 23 percent, more than half of users are doing so," Stodder writes. "Compared with the results of similar survey questions asked by TDWI and other research organizations just a few years ago, the results in this study suggest that the overall percentage of users implementing BI and analytics tools is growing."

This jibes with what others in the industry say they're seeing. First, says Jake Freivald, vice president of corporate marketing with BI stalwart Information Builders Inc. (IBI), IT organizations are indisputably going mobile. Not rapidly, or recklessly, but not slowly either.

"Very few [customers] are rushing into [mobile BI], but nearly all have had discussions with us about it. Almost all are moving in that direction [of deploying it]," said Jake Freivald, product marketing manager with Information Builders Inc., back in August.

Freivald's experiences dovetail with those of Stodder and TDWI in at least one other respect. "If you're already having success with BI, you're more likely to have success with [BI] mobility. It isn't just that you have the infrastructure [in place], or that you have the expertise to develop and support [BI and analytics]," he commented. Instead, Freivald argued, it's that "you're using business intelligence. You have people using it."

Stodder's TDWI report posits a similar connection between BI adoption and mobile success. According to the report, shops that are avid consumers of BI and analytics -- i.e., shops in which IT has had success encouraging the uptake of BI and analytics by a high percentage of users -- are more likely to make extensive use of mobile BI, too.

"Participants who said that more than 50 percent of users in their organizations are performing some or all of their BI and analytics on mobile devices rose from 8 percent to 21 percent," Stodder writes. "The bottom line is that expansion in the number of mobile BI and analytics users seems to go hand in hand with an overall expansion in the implementation of BI and analytics tools."

The upshot, he concludes, is that mobile BI is no more likely than conventional BI to succeed in a greenfield context. "These results support the hypothesis that, compared to 'green-field' implementations where users have never implemented BI, mobile BI and analytics are most successful in organizations where tool use is already widespread and where mobile deployment is part of a bigger strategy for 'democratizing' the data and expanding BI and analytics to a wider population of users."

Stodder's 36-page mobile BI report includes a discussion of the challenges and benefits of mobilizing BI and analytics. It's available as a free download from TDWI.

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