The BI world as we knew it changed on April 3, 2010 and most of us didn’t see it coming.
As I prepared for our 2013 board meeting early this year, I pulled up the PPT’s that were used in previous meetings. What struck me most was the 2010 presentation, not because of what it contained, but because of what was so obviously missing. There was no mention of “mobile computing.”
It got me thinking about how massively “mobile” technologies have changed the business landscape — especially Business Intelligence. It made me sit back and think how wrong some predictions were about the future. I’m sure you’ve read a few of these gems of punditry:
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
— Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
— Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of DEC
“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
— The editor in charge of business books for Prentice-Hall, 1957
“640k RAM should be enough for anyone.”
— Bill Gates, 1985
But once in a while, someone utters something that sounds like hyperbole at the time, but turns out to be dead on.
“People laughed at us for using the word magical. But you know what? It turned out to be magical.”
— Steve Jobs on the iPad
Now those were truly visionary words. It seems like a lifetime ago, but Steve Jobs and Apple transformed the whole BI industry as we know it… and they did it in a span of less than 3 years. That is magic.
Mobile Business Intelligence
Today with an iPad or a smartphone you can literally slip your corporate intelligence into your pocket and have access to it anytime you like. There’s also a growing market appreciation for native mobile apps that should open the door to taking BI with you wherever you go. The only trouble is that one secret ingredient is still missing.
Usefulness? Wait a Minute…
So what’s the problem? Power isn’t the problem. Security issues and access to sensitive corporate data is an issue, but it’s been an issue ever since the PC went portable. It can’t hold mobile BI back for long either. Data? We have it coming out of our ears.
Useful information? Ah, there’s the rub.
A good BI system needs to take the disorder and create order from it; to take what is nonsense, and make it sense. It’s difficult enough to do this in a Desktop/server environment, but with the inherent need for very specific information filtered out of mountains of data and the limitations in mobile screen real estate, mobile BI is has a ways to go before it’s on equal footing with the rest of the operation. But hey, you have to admit, it’s not bad for a 3-year old!
BI Beachheads for Making Mobility Turn into Profitability
In the next couple years as takes up residence in mobile devices, the more it has to become digestible and immediately useful for the users of those devices. The kinds of information “nuggets” likely to work better for users in a context of mobility include:
- Top level summary reports
- Notifications of changes in KPIs
- Location-based information
Users have to be able to interact with that information. For example, to pull up specific facts via targeted queries or navigation. But it has to be the mobile BI app that does the heavy lifting to make that possible, not the user. That’s why I think things like location-based analytics leveraging a device’s GPS system will help fuel the revolution.
The Web-or-Native Question
Web-based solutions have the advantage of being accessible to any device running a compatible web browser, but mobile browsers don’t offer all the bells and whistles of desktop browsers. Native apps running on the mobile device itself can overcome these limitations, but then you need a separate version of the app for each type of mobile device platform. Furthermore, screen sizes may also limit the amount of information you can usefully display. Still, these are drag factors, rather than showstoppers. HTML5 allows users to use the same app across multiple platforms, and is for all intents and purposes superior to Silverlight and device-specific technologies.
If you question the future of this trend, you’re not much different many others who expressed skepticism just a short time ago. Tech pundits back then were writing:
“Tablet computers will fail to become the Next Big Thing.”
“The iPad will fail to win significant market share”
(the iPad is) “little more than a giant iPhone”
Or, you can play it safe and listen to a true visionary Steve Jobs who said:
“It feels great to have the iPad launched into the world. It’s going to be a game changer.”
A game changer indeed.