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How PetSmart continues to see value in mobile BI software

Mobile BI apps may have lost some of their luster from earlier years, but PetSmart, for one, continues to find real business value in apps for their managers and executives.

Who needs offices when, thanks in large part to the maturity of mobile business intelligence applications, insights can be delivered to managers wherever they find themselves?

That was a realization that PetSmart Inc. recently arrived at for its main distribution center. The international pet supply store has been using mobile BI apps built around MicroStrategy reporting software since 2010. During that time, the company has deployed nearly 20 different apps for everything from executive reporting to supply chain monitoring.

During a recent redesign of its distribution center, leadership realized managers didn't need their own offices. Mobile BI software enables visibility into operations, allowing users to check the status of orders and to identify bottlenecks from a mobile device.

"It lets the distribution center leader get out onto the floor to coach associates to make efficiency changes and speed the operations," said Brian Rensing, senior director of enterprise information management at PetSmart.

For a time, mobile BI apps were considered a hot emerging technology. Survey data from Forrester Research from 2015 indicated that adoption of mobile BI increased fourfold between 2012 and 2014. But more recent poll data from Dresner Advisory Services showed a leveling of enthusiasm. The number of respondents saying mobile BI was somewhat or very important in their organization declined from 2014 to 2015.

Sun hasn't set on mobile BI

The Dresner report hypothesizes that part of the reason for the drop in enthusiasm is that mobile computing is almost taken for granted today. Additionally, the industry has come to feel much more enthusiasm for more advanced techniques, like predictive analytics and machine learning.

But that doesn't mean the sun has set on mobile BI software. PetSmart, for one, has found substantial value in the technology.

Rensing said the first thing the company's CEO does in the morning is check an executive app that updates him on store performance. It tracks metrics like units per transaction, average transaction size and conversion rate. Separately, store managers use a mobile BI app to track their own performance, comparing today's sales figures with yesterday's or last year's. Apps are also used to track key performance indicators in other departments, like finance, marketing, merchandising and human resources.

"This daily and real-time performance visibility into our 1,500-plus stores is very valuable internal insight," Rensing said.

Mobile BI app development is challenging

Developing mobile BI apps can be a bit different than typical BI reports. At PetSmart, the process starts in typical fashion, pulling data out of supply chain management systems and an SAP data warehouse. Rensing said standardizing data from different sources was the most challenging part of the project, but the functionality in the MicroStrategy software supported the effort.

Once the data is in the app, the software developers have to put a little more thought into how users will consume information than they might when developing standard desktop reports. Rensing said the data itself guides desktop development.

Typically, certain visualizations lend themselves naturally to certain data types. However, in mobile BI software development, developers need to give more thought to the device on which users will consume reports. This puts constraints on how data can be presented.

"In the mobile development space, it's all about the right data, in the right form, delivered at the right time," Rensing said.

This ability to get data to decision-makers wherever they are is part of what makes mobile BI a key technology in Rensing's view. While it may not be the hot new tool it was a few years ago, it has matured to a point where it can deliver real business value.

"Mobile apps that deliver detailed reporting help associates more effectively monitor and manage the business from wherever they are," Rensing said. 

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