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This content is part of the Essential Guide: Big data exploration and analytics for CIOs: Oh, the places you'll go

Go mobile for business intelligence benefits, but beware the hurdles

On-the-spot decision making and in-the-field analysis are two of the many benefits that make mobile analytics a worthy investment.

Mobile analytics isn't going anywhere. Characterized as top IT trends for 2014, mobile technology and the accompanying bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon are shifting the way business is done, and IT is feeling the effects.

In a recent global survey by Avanade Inc., 60% of companies reported that most of their employees use personal computing devices at work. Moreover, a recent CDW survey indicated that a majority of small business IT professionals agreed that mobile devices make their company more efficient through improved communication (60%), increased productivity (55%) and streamlined business processes (34%).

So what's driving this mobile business intelligence (BI) technology train, and what are the benefits?

  • The tablet revolution: Just like the move from desktop to laptop, there's a huge push toward tablet use beyond traditional email. Forrester Research predicts that the use of business-owned tablets will rise by nearly double-digit percentage points in the next five years, excluding the BYOD programs. That's a lot of mobile business use. Employees, especially executives, need portable devices that provide valuable information anytime, anywhere. As tablet capabilities begin to match those of the laptop, the push toward instant information on the go, in tablet format, will increase, making mobile technology an integral part of the IT landscape.  
  • Anytime, anywhere data: On-the-road salespeople need customer data available at all times. It's critical to their job; given that most of their time is spent in front of customers, companies need to provide sales tools and equipment on their mobile devices. We have several enterprise clients who've been able to send their salespeople into the field with the ability to review account history, sales history and procurement costs face-to-face with their clients. Not only does this transparency build trust and increase customer satisfaction, but it also boosts customer retention.
  • On-the-spot production decisions: Many of our manufacturing clients are realizing substantial cost savings and efficiencies thanks to the ability to walk the plant floor holding a mobile device that provides data on current machine operations, job or batch information, and alerts to variances in processes. That gives plant managers the ability to address issues right away with machine operators, reducing not only the risk of financial loss but also ensuring efficient plant processes. Customized, real-time mobile reporting like this helped an international manufacturer of ours identify a line-process discrepancy attributed to a faulty scale that was costing the company thousands of dollars each day.
  • In-the-field analysis: An energy customer found mobile technology critical to their field operators when they needed reporting on a transformer or substation. Their field technicians required immediate access to voltage measures, maintenance records and the history of the transformer in order to make accurate adjustments to each machine. Mobile BI reduced the time it took to access the information, giving the operators what they needed while they stood in front of the machine.

These examples point to not only the growing trend toward mobile technology, but also the tangible benefits of a mobile business intelligence strategy: increased collaboration, smarter decision making, significant time savings, greater competitive advantage and improved customer service, to name just a few.

While the advantages of mobile technology are numerous, there are still a few hurdles to overcome:

  • Security: Important corporate data stored on a device -- which can be stolen or lost -- keeps IT executives up at night. In a BYOD world, IT needs to be proactive in its security requirements by finding the right software to cover all the bases, using tools such as SAP Afaria, AirWatch or Mobile Iron. These tools not only provide comprehensive security, but also manage mobile applications and content from a centralized management console. Be sure your mobile device management provider includes all devices regardless of manufacturer, and whether they're a phone or tablet, or company or privately owned, and that it handles automated compliance checks as well.
  • Infrastructure: Not every company's BI environment is ready to deploy mobile. Whether it's a device availability issue or a hardware/network issue related to Web servers, firewall configurations or lack of encryption protocol, your IT administrator has to be prepared on multiple fronts to deliver across the extranet. Although basic infrastructure answers abound, IT needs to start by evaluating the current infrastructure for gaps. Creating a plan is the essential step and can be aided by seeking information from other companies who have recently tackled this problem, or by hiring a professional consultant. Doing the front-end work ensures the elimination -- or at least the mitigation -- of these challenges before they affect your users.
  • Optimizing content: Not all reporting and visualization software provides an efficient way to move data seamlessly between laptop/desktop and mobile. Add to that the differing requirements of each device and you may find yourself creating duplicate information -- one for laptop/desktop and one for mobile. This can be overcome by choosing the right BI platform built with the flexibility your company needs to meet the growing mobile demand. SAP Analytics, MicroStrategy and QlikTech all design analytic solutions for laptop browsers that automatically renders information appropriately on your mobile device. The goal is to have data visualizations created for your browser that respond to finger swipes when viewed on an iPad. It's about doing a little research and finding the right company so that your people don't spend time duplicating anything.

These days, if you're not innovating, you're falling behind. Mobile BI is a big opportunity for companies that are willing to make the investment, and the payoffs are real. Embrace mobile BI before it becomes the standard, help your employees become more productive and more responsive, and provide your company with a competitive edge.

Scott Golden is the cofounder and vice president of services for Decision First Technologies, an Atlanta-based BI consulting firm, and 7x SAP BusinessObjects Partner of the Year award winner. He has more than 15 years of experience in business intelligence and works with small and medium-sized businesses and enterprise clients across various industries to analyze, develop and deploy effective BI strategies. Email him at

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What mobile business intelligence benefits and challenges has your organization discovered?
The biggest challenge has been properly controlling the flow of information and teaching employees to keep their focus on what they need to know while still exercising independent thought. It's a fine line, and more than one person has stumbled while trying to stay on it. The biggest benefit is probably the boost to worker productivity. We can get people the information they need, when they need it, without having to send a long request up the chain or request a study that would take who-knows-how-long to actually complete. Knowing what information they'll need speeds this process up immensely.