Business intelligence software is helping smartphones live up to their name. And it's adding a touch of brilliance to tablet devices as well.
Desk-bound analysts and IT department developers have traditionally been the heaviest "consumers" of business intelligence technology. But the rapid proliferation of next-generation mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, is generating a wave of increasingly sophisticated business intelligence software for mobile users.
"It's not just another deployment platform for BI applications. It's a whole new opportunity," said Mychelle Mollot, IBM vice president of worldwide marketing for business analytics.
Industry forecasts back that up. Thirty-three percent of business intelligence functionality will be consumed through hand-held devices by 2013, according to a Gartner forecast.
Business intelligence has already become the third most in-demand enterprise mobile application, behind only e-mail and personal information management apps such as calendars, according to a market study published in October by independent analyst Howard Dresner. Sixty-eight percent of that survey's participants rated mobile BI as "critical" or "very important" – up from 52 percent in the same study one year earlier.
There's also a growing sense that by developing business intelligence applications for mobile devices, vendors may finally fulfill their long-stated goal of bringing business analytics capabilities to a broad range of business users.
"We absolutely believe mobile is central to the future of business intelligence," said Jeff Boehm, global product marketing vice president at QlikTech, the fast-growing developer of the QlikView business intelligence platform. "The number of places where you're disconnected are becoming fewer and farther in between."
And where providing mobile access for BI applications may have once been an afterthought, vendors today increasingly see mobile devices as the primary means of access. "Everything we do now, we are thinking about mobilizing it first," said Mimi Spier, marketing director for SAP mobile analytics.
Using mobile devices to deliver business intelligence to users isn't a new idea: many major BI applications have long provided some form of mobile access. But often that access took the form of static reports and dashboards with limited options for interaction such as drilling down on a report or querying a database.
That's changing with the more powerful capabilities of today's smartphones and, especially, tablet devices like Apple's iPad.
"A big part of this is the devices that are making this possible," said Dave Becerra, strategy and business development vice president at MeLLmo Inc. MeLLmo develops the popular Roambi visualization software that lets mobile device users access back-end business intelligence systems from multiple vendors, including IBM Cognos, SAS Enterprise BI Server, Oracle Business Intelligence, and SAP BusinessObjects, and displays the analytical results.
"It's just that much more of a riche experience," agreed Justin Norwood, business information management principal at Capgemini. Norwood is also Capgemini's global leader for SAP business analytics; the systems integration company partners with SAP and works with its BusinessObjects software. But Capgemini also works Roambi, IBM Cognos and others.
Despite the enthusiasm for mobile BI, vendors and solution providers generally agree that 2011 was a transition year, where businesses were building the infrastructure needed to support mobile BI and testing different approaches.
"A very large percentage of our customers are trying it," said Dwight de Vera, Arcplan's senior vice president of solutions, Americas. Arcplan is a developer of business intelligence, dashboard, and corporate performance management applications. Mobile BI "is always part of the conversation with our customers and prospective customers," according to de Vera.
"There's tons and tons of 'tire-kicking,'" said Jake Freivald, corporate marketing vice president at Information Builders Inc., a leading independent BI software developer. "But many are still in the strategy formulation stages."
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