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Mobile BI brings more than security concerns to the table, TDWI says

Interest in mobile BI is growing, but democratizing data also presents hurdles for building a business case, according to new research from TDWI.

Security remains a significant hurdle to building a business case for mobile BI, but it is far from the only challenge and not even the biggest, recent research shows.

The Data Warehousing Institute’s recent report Mobile Business Intelligence and Analytics: Extending Insights to a Mobile Workforce found 41% of the 415 respondents indicated security as a barrier to creating a mobile BI business case. But respondents indicated quantifying a hard return on investment (44%) and also the lack of experience, resources or training (44%) as even bigger barriers than security. Responses were culled from the 541 BI, analytics and data management professionals who responded to TDWI’s survey invitation last August. Not all respondents answered every survey question.

So while businesses have security concerns about mobile BI, it isn’t the only concern. Data governance, performance requirements and dashboard development also need to be examined, according to David Stodder, director of TDWI research for business intelligence and the author of the mobile BI report.

Dashboard development
The survey found 65% of respondents hope that implementing BI and analytics on smartphones and tablets will improve customer sales, service and support. Only 11% of respondents indicated they’re front-office sales, service or support staff is currently doing this today.

“Our research is showing that mobile is taking off the most in organizations where they’ve already expanded quite a bit with BI,” Stodder said. “So they’re looking at mobile as a way to expand even further.”

Expanding the reaches of BI means putting data into the hands of employees who may be on the road or on the salesroom floor, and doing so raises a basic question.

As Stodder put it, dashboards have become a necessary way for employees to access information. But with mobile devices, businesses have to determine if dashboards can be transferred to the device or if new dashboards should be developed. If businesses decide on the latter approach, they also need to consider how to synchronize visualizations between the desktop and the mobile device.

“Organizations need to look at that to make sure they don’t exacerbate what I think is another problem in some organizations: too many dashboards,” Stodder said. “There has to be some management there to make sure it’s not going to create confusion.”

To make the data useful, Stodder said, it’s critical to present metrics and key performance indicators in ways users can understand, incorporating clear language and instruction, and even encourage user interaction.

“That’s the kind of application that is going to be successful on a mobile device,” Stodder said.

Performance requirements
In Stodder’s survey, 49% of respondents indicated that more users will need BI and analytics tool training if the organization decides to roll out mobile devices. One cost many businesses may not anticipate is providing the kind of training necessary for those users to make the most of mobile BI.

Tools and training aside, mobile BI implies having access to good, quality, up-to-date data. But it also requires an evaluation of how businesses plan to support the additional technology, specifically in terms of performance requirements and data accessibility, Stodder said.

According to Stodder’s survey, 53% of respondents expect that the addition of mobile devices means more users will need access to data warehouses; 46% of respondents indicated those users will also require more frequently updated data.

“If you’ve got mobile users potentially traveling around the world -- and in large corporations, that’s not unlikely -- that data suddenly is going to have to be available 24 by 7,” Stodder said.

Before, businesses may have been able to take systems down during off hours. With mobile BI, that becomes increasingly unlikely, Stodder said.

“It could be a quantum leap in terms of performance and availability pressures on data warehouses and other systems,” Stodder said.

Security and governance
Still, survey respondents view data security as the third-biggest barrier when building a business case for deploying mobile BI and analytics.

“There’s so much concern from organizations these days about managing data according to regulatory and compliance policies,” Stodder said.

Companies found violating those regulations can be fined and the transgression can be made public. Although Stodder said the same rules hold true regardless of whether employees are using tablets, laptops or PCs, tablet security is a bit more complicated because it needs to be considered at every level: in the database, during transmission and on the device.

“At every step of the way, security is in place in many organizations,” Stodder said, “but the issue is coordinating all of the security levels and making sure there aren’t gaps.”

That’s one issue; another is data governance. Stodder said a significant amount of caution and concern stems from the lack of data governance, relaying that “most organizations are pretty immature” in managing data accuracy and consistency, governing who should be using what data and how to make that auditable and accountable.

“While they may have the technology to handle security from the source to the user on a mobile device, it’s more than just technology,” Stodder said. “They’ve got to figure out what’s policy.”

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