While most trustworthy psychologists and life gurus evangelize the idea of slowing down and grounding, the world dictates its own pace. Yet again, we grab a fancy smoothie or a pack of noodles and do our best to fall into step. These instant dishes are no steak or lasagna, but they serve their purpose perfectly well, nurturing us on the go while being tasty.
This fast-paced lifestyle is quite similar to the concept of mobile business intelligence. Aiming not to dethrone but to complement traditional business intelligence, mobile BI is a sure way to gain a competitive advantage for a business. So, let’s dig into the concept and learn what a smart mobile BI solution has to offer.
Mobile business intelligence: the core
Mobile business intelligence is a technology-enabled process a company deploys to extract meaningful insights from raw data and deliver them to end-users via mobile devices. In other words, mobile BI helps adopters access analytics and reporting capabilities via smartphones, tablets, wearables, etc.
There are two ways for end-users to approach business intelligence capabilities via portable devices:
- Web-based BI solutions – BI applications accessible via a web browser. Users don’t have to download and install web-based BI software and only need an internet connection and a browser to access it. These solutions are also device-agnostic and can be accessed via any device regardless of its hardware and software specifics.
- Native BI applications – applications developed specifically for a particular device in an OS-compatible (mostly Android and iOS) language which should be installed beforehand. Native BI applications may work in the offline mode and deliver superior customer experience due to supporting hardware-specific functionality (touch gestures, geolocation, camera, microphone, etc.).
However, the line between these two approaches is gradually blurring. With the help of BI consulting, you can develop an HTML5 browser-based application, which offers some of the native app functionality, such as the ability to send push notifications, work offline with the automatically pre-cached content, zooming and double-tap features, etc.
How a company can benefit from mobile BI
Forbes recognizes mobile BI among the emerging BI trends for 2022, alongside Mordor Intelligence forecasting the mobile BI market to reach a GAGR of 22.43% between 2021 and 2026.
The popularity of mobile BI solutions is driven by their ability to offer traditional BI capabilities anywhere and all the time, which leads to:
Improved efficiency of work
Many BI users (executives, line managers, field sales representatives, customer-facing employees, etc.) cannot be around their desktop computers all the time due to the nature of their work. With mobile-enabled BI, they can instantly access specific information they need to deal with the situation at hand. With BI capabilities in place, C-level managers can rely on the most recent enterprise KPIs while meeting with investors, department managers can get instant notifications on the influx of calls from customers and quickly re-allocate resources, sales reps can drill down into the particular customer’s experiences across all channels, and so on.
Enhanced user experience
Mobile devices are easy to carry around and do not limit users to a particular location (although the network might), which makes mobile business intelligence a very user-friendly option. When you complement it with native device functionality (swipe navigation, GPS, contracts and calendar integration, QR-code scanning), you can deliver a truly interactive user experience, which is bound to improve employee satisfaction and retention in the long run.
Improved collaboration between business users
Such mobile BI features as instant notifications and alerts on new content, commentaries and reactions, secure content sharing at the click of a button, in-app discussions, activity tracking, etc. encourage end-users to collaborate and brainstorm new ideas while giving them a sense of purpose in the workplace.
Increased BI adoption rates
Naturally, the more employees have access to data and analytics capabilities, the more people learn how to handle information properly and maximize its value. In addition, by provisioning solid BI capabilities to all mobile device users, companies improve the availability of valuable insight even to those who previously haven’t relied on BI. In the long run, the increased BI adoption rates result in the accelerated digital transformation and the company staying competitive in the modern fast-paced business environment.
Mobile BI solutions: key capabilities
A mature mobile BI solution is built with technologies supporting the whole business analytics cycle, from data extraction to easy-to-comprehend visualization of valuable insights. Here is a list of mobile BI core functionality:
Making smart business decisions requires a company to analyze historical and cross-departmental information collected from multiple heterogeneous (with data of varying types and formats) sources. To integrate information from databases, SaaS applications, flat files, IoT devices, ecommerce platforms, etc., mobile BI technology solutions offer:
- Pre-built data source connectors
- Universal APIs for building custom integrations
- Ingesting data via partner connectivity platforms
- Support for the ingestion of all information types (structured, semi-structured, unstructured)
- Support for real-time data ingestion
Data stored in various sources needs to be transformed to a unified format, or otherwise it can not be analyzed efficiently. In addition to this, the collected information may be inconsistent, duplicated, inaccurate, out-of-date, etc. To handle these issues, an efficient mobile BI solution should help automate:
- Data validation
- Data cleansing
- Data deduplication
- Data transformation
- Data enrichment
- Metadata management (discovery, update, etc.) and so on
Any BI architecture, be it desktop-based or mobile, has an enterprise data warehouse at its core. Its aim is to store processed information in a database according to the predefined model for further analysis. The central database may also be supplemented with data warehouse subsets – dimensional data marts, which cater to the needs of particular user groups. To store large volumes of information and ensure its quick extraction and analysis, your DWH technology should support:
- Massively parallel processing
- Data compression and columnar storage
- Automated independent scalability of storage and compute resources
- Materialized view and result caching
- Storing of structured and semi-structured data
- Pre-built integrations with a data lake, an operational data store, etc.
- Automated data replication and backup
- Automated infrastructure health monitoring
- Geo-redundancy and fault tolerance, etc.
The scope of analytics capabilities depends on the company’s data maturity, needs, and objectives. Ideally, all four types of data analytics (descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive) should be supported for both non-tech users and specialists with relevant expertise (i.e. data scientists and data analysts) to make use of, with the following features enabling analysis:
- Drill-down, drill-through, slice and dice, etc.
- What-is analysis
- Predictive modeling
- Geospatial analytics
- Real-time data analytics
- Self-service business analytics (enabled via ML and AI, intuitive user interface, etc.)
According to IBM’s Data Breach Report, data breach costs have reached $4.24 million, the highest average total cost in 17 years. Interestingly, these costs are significantly higher for organizations with a less mature security posture. So, to safeguard corporate information, it is advised to incorporate the following capabilities into your mobile BI solution:
- Multi-factor authentication (user passwords, device ID, fingerprints, etc.)
- Data encryption in transit and at rest
- Ability to prohibit particular data from downloading
- Role-based access
- Data encryption and data masking, etc.
Mobile BI serves people who need to make decisions while being pressed for time and resources, thus the solution has to enable quick access to the insights that are already curated and laid out for particular users or user groups, easy to understand and act upon. If the user is not satisfied with the data granularity level or wants to dig deeper, the solution should let non-tech users quickly run an analysis or find some necessary information themselves.
- Scheduled (time-based, event-based, etc.) data delivery for different types of users (via reports, dashboards, alerts, notifications, emails, and so on.)
- Interactive reporting and configurable dashboards (drilling down and up, sorting, filtering, zooming in and out, data hiding, etc.)
- Data delivery on an as-needed basis
- Self-service reporting enabled with drag-and-drop functionality, filters, NLP, etc.
- Storytelling capabilities
- Content search
To make the insights-sharing process easier and encourage colleagues to collaborate on a regular basis, consider the following functionality:
- Posting questions, comments, etc.
- Automated notifications about comments or replies via email, push notifications, etc.
- Sending out reports to groups or individual users on a schedule, or according to the business-defined rules
- Customizing messages and commentaries to the recipient
For a mobile BI application to deliver great user experience, it should interact with the native device functionality and enable:
- Cross-platform support, when a mobile BI solution can be accessed from different types of devices, with the mobile versions for different devices delivering consistent user experience. The software should automatically detect different devices and ensure necessary optimization.
- Offline mode in order not to annoy end-users with poor or no network connectivity disrupting the analytics workflow. To make a mobile BI app available for offline use, you need to enable proactive automated caching and offline editing.
- Uploading files from a mobile device, including audio, videos, QR-codes, barcodes, etc.
- Natural gestures and interactions, enabling the software to respond to scrolling, swiping, tapping and double-tapping, long-pressing, pinching, clicking, etc.
- Real-time push notification and alerts sent to the home screen about a particular analytics pattern, trend, etc.
- GPS integration, etc.
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3 challenges of mobile BI
Failing to cater to unique user needs
For some time, mobile BI solutions were addressing the challenge of when and where to access BI capabilities. However, the aspects of who is accessing it and what for have majorly remained unattended. As a result, mobile BI solutions would reconfigure desktop reports and dashboards for handheld devices on the go. But today, vendors have started focusing on creating a solution that will be more mobile-friendly.
The journey starts with examining the needs of workers predominantly using mobile devices and PCs and creating the required functionality for each user group. While it might be easier to input text with a physical keyboard, run complex analysis on big screens, and switch between windows with a mouse, your employees may prefer using their mobile devices to upload video and audio files.
Poor user interface design
Application interface intuitiveness and ease of usage are two major characteristics that make a mobile BI solution more likely to be adopted. Firstly, you have to keep user experience consistent across mobile and desktop devices regardless of the differences in the screen size and overall concept. Secondly, users are accustomed to the polished interfaces of consumer mobile apps and expect the same experience in a mobile BI solution.
To addresses these two concern, we recommend to:
- Make user interface self-explanatory (e.g. an app can generate explanations and hints to help a user in fulfilling a task)
- Employ functionality typical of native apps and familiar to most users – swiping, pinching, double-tapping, etc.
- Enable users to collaborate with colleagues and customers via email, internal platforms, social media, etc.
- Monitor use adoption, including most used and neglected features as well as patterns in user behavior
Exposing corporate information
Companies usually apply the same security practices and policies for mobile and desktop BI users, which means mobile BI adopters can access and manipulate the same data in the same ways as they do from desktop. However, issues typically arise if they want to extend the scope of their activities by either getting access to different information or managing it differently. In this case, a company would need to redefine all casual data security practices and policies. When a device is stolen or lost, the IT department should be able to remotely wipe stored sensitive data, if there is no setup policy prohibiting certain data from being downloaded in the first place. Some other features that could help safeguard the data are:
- Screen capture blocking
- Configurable data caching
- Clipboard access control
- Detection of jailbroken devices, etc.
Being among the most prospective trends in the data analytics world, mobile business intelligence is not a new concept. Having emerged around the year 2000 for the first time, mobile business intelligence first failed to win the market due to high costs and technological constraints. Now, with mobile computing mature and affordable, it seems like mobile BI is being given a second chance. And with proper expertise and effort, you’ll be able to build a truly-effective mobile BI solution.