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Survey spotlights mobile business intelligence as top priority

Mobile business intelligence has become a top-three priority for businesses, according to new research by analyst Howard Dresner.

In 2010, Howard Dresner, president and founder of Dresner Advisory Services LLC and a former Gartner analyst, watched the mobile market turn red hot when Apple released its first iPad. With the growing influence and evolution of mobile devices, Dresner chose to alter his research schedule for the year to include mobile business intelligence (BI) -- its importance, hype and potential gaps between consumers and software providers.

Now Dresner is at it again. Last month, he unveiled the findings of his third mobile BI study (the quickly changing market caused Dresner to revisit the topic six months after his initial report). While the latest survey results continue to chronicle a serious commitment to the mobile movement with increased plans for adoption and deployment, Dresner was surprised by some findings, including where BI ranks for mobile users.

“What the iPhone and Android devices have done is turn the phone into a non-phone, into a non-email platform,” Dresner said. “They are information devices. They are applications devices.”

That kind of accessibility to information and applications has become increasingly important to businesses and increasingly popular among employees. According to Dresner’s most recent findings, 68% of the 170 respondents reported mobile BI to be either “critical” or “very important” to their businesses, up from 52% in 2010. At the opposite end of the spectrum, respondents reporting mobile BI as “unimportant” dropped from 11% in 2010 to 2% in 2011. The survey consisted of 28 questions; respondents were recruited from existing communities maintained by Dresner Advisory Services as well as from the Internet and social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

Mobile BI begins to take precedence
When asked to rank mobile application priorities, respondents selected business intelligence as the third most important out of 11 possibilities. That’s just behind email and personal information management for things like contacts, calendars and scheduling.

“I would have thought it would have been a little further down the list,” Dresner said. “Oddly enough, things like social media access are lower than BI.”

Dresner’s findings were echoed last month by the Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. In a statement, the analyst firm said tablets are providing accessibility beyond “personal productivity tools toward manageable and secure applications” and listed BI as one of the top 10 commercial business application categories.

The trend to use mobile devices for more than garden variety applications will likely continue, as the combined sale of tablets and smartphones will outpace PCs by 44% this year, according to Gartner forecasts.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg sort of discussion,” Dresner said. “Does mobile make BI more relevant? Or does BI make mobile more relevant?”

Either way, businesses are clamoring for it, especially the most senior-level managers, who want to keep a pulse on operations when they’re outside of the office.

“Most executives want basic viewing functionality: They want KPI [key performance indicator] access, alerts when something is out of norm as well as the ability to view reports,” Dresner said. “They also want things to be extremely useful, intuitive and accessible.”

And, Dresner said, organizations are redoubling efforts to put mobile devices into the hands of executives.

“Once executives see the value, it’s much easier to justify for other roles,” Dresner said.

Adopting mobile easier for some than others
While Dresner’s study finds businesses across vertical businesses are interested in deploying mobile, adopting plans into practice varies by the size of the organization.

The smallest organizations -- companies employing between one and 100 people -- have the greatest interest in and most aggressive plans for mobile deployments, according to Dresner’s results. That’s followed by the largest organizations, or companies with more than 5,000 employees.

While smaller organizations may have less red tape to negotiate, larger organizations may need to host meticulous discussions and follow specific protocols when implementing plans for such a large number of employees, Dresner said.

But once that hurdle is overcome, larger organizations have the resources to give the green light to a mobile rollout. That’s not necessarily the case for midsize organizations, Dresner said, a category of businesses that appears to be taking a more conservative approach.

“They don’t have as much agility as the little guys and they don’t have as many resources as the big guys,” Dresner said. “Their ambition is reduced and, therefore, when you look further out at their plans, they’re not quite as aggressive.”

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