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Ever since Apple released the iPad in 2010, executives have fallen hard for the technology. And for good reason: Tablets give corporate executives immediate access to business data whether they’re on the road and away from the office or in a boardroom presentation and away from their PCs. While laptops have provided some of that same flexibility for years, they have not been able to match the tablet’s cutting-edge look, feel and form.
That may explain why mobility has become so important to chief information officers (CIOs). According to a recent survey by Stamford, Conn., research group Gartner Inc., CIOs rank mobile technologies as one of their most important priorities for 2012, second only to analytics and business intelligence (BI). But even with a statistic like this, businesses will need to build a strong mobile BI case to move plans forward, according to Bhavish Sood, a research director for Gartner.
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“First, it can be difficult to justify the cost; second, it’s a limited use case based on what the device can do and how many people it can be rolled out to,” Sood said. “This is not mainstream technology.”
Last month at the Gartner BI Summit in Los Angeles, Sood gave a presentation on how to construct that business case. Companies need to calculate cost, he said, but they should also consider the value mobile technology can add.
Benefits of mobile BI
Mobile BI is enjoying a surge in popularity. According to Gartner, 33% of the 1,364 organizations using BI tools it surveyed are planning to deploy mobile BI this year. That’s in addition to the 8% already using the technology.
And, unlike with other technologies, getting executives to use the technology has not been difficult. Instead, Sood said, executives approached the enterprise seeking support.
“It was not a question that was asked,” he said. “They instead wanted to find a way to deploy the technology.”
As the technology matured, so did the clamoring for more capability. Specifically, Sood said, mobile BI can help businesses make more fact-based decisions and engage new users by managing dashboards, enabling on-the-go analytics and utilizing new kinds of information like location-based data. As the technology matured, so did the use cases, which mushroomed beyond the executive office to managers, knowledge workers, sales staff and service departments.
Mobile BI, some businesses would say, puts information at employees’ fingertips, but the reports and data already exist on their desktops. Moving dashboards as is from one device to the other is a limited perspective on going mobile, Sood said, but it suggests that a significant hurdle for mobile BI lies in justifying the cost. Especially today as data gets bigger and as consumerization -- blending personal and business use of technology -- becomes more common.
But if a business is interested in rolling out a mobile BI program, it will need to start with cost.
Cost vs. value for mobile BI
How much the device, bandwidth and security will cost are important numbers to weigh, Sood said, and knowing how the devices and the mobile program will be managed and who will take on the task also needs to be considered. But businesses should also know that, in most cases, software costs are minimal.
“Especially if you have a BI platform and you decide to go with the same vendor for mobile BI,” he said. “In most cases, it’s either free or the first 25 to 30 licenses are free.”
The challenge, Sood said, is when businesses have multiple BI platforms. In those cases, businesses tend to either create a custom application or select a vendor, like Roambi, to connect the pieces.
But pinning down costs in other areas can be difficult. Hardware costs, like the device itself, can differ depending on the vendor. Infrastructure costs like the bandwidth requirements for online applications aren’t static either.
Plus, Sood said, businesses should consider the kind of cultural acceptance issues that may come up.
“It can create a jealousy factor,” he said, adding that an iPad could signify one employee is more important than another or one employee’s work is valued more highly over another’s.
But costs should be offset by the potential value of mobile BI. The technology allows workers to, for example, respond to situations faster, catch risk earlier, find and act on new opportunities more quickly and have better context awareness when making decisions. Sood said businesses can think about measuring value in four ways: savings of, for example, actual printing and report costs; brand or how updated technology may add to an image; cycle time or having access to real-time data; and customer service.
Putting together a solid business case that calculates not only cost but value of a mobile BI program is a big undertaking, and Sood recommends establishing business intelligence competency centers (BICCs) -- a team of employees from different departments who support BI across the enterprise -- take on an active role here.
“For those of you struggling to justify the cost of mobile BI, a good place to start is the BICC,” he said. “That brings the business and tech guys together, under one roof, to talk about performance management metrics for mobile BI, strategy, those kinds of things.”
The BICC can help determine a company’s BI blueprint and how mobile fits into the overall strategy. But, Sood said, for a BICC to be effective, it will need executive sponsorship.
Mobile BI, alone, will still be a hard sell, he said. Businesses should construct a plan that will eventually encompass more use cases and more functionality across the enterprise and beyond BI.
“Mobile BI is a good starter point, but it will be difficult to justify on its own,” said Sood, who recommends evaluating more use cases such as meeting applications, email, customer relationship management and even sandboxed environments for personal versus professional applications.