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BI for mobile remains a challenge for vendors

While some BI vendors have developed effective mobile apps that provide concise insights, those that have attempted to recreate their desktop dashboards on phones have struggled.

While the demand for analytics software grows and vendors old and new race to come up with the next innovations, the majority of vendors' research and development resources are being dedicated to desktop applications as opposed to BI for mobile devices.

A handful of vendors stand out as exceptions, but mobile apps remain largely underdeveloped by many others.

BI for mobile, simply, presents a conundrum for developers. Some have chosen to invest in mobile, attacked the challenge and made headway, while others have elected to just focus their attention on their desktop applications.

The problem is the screen.

Digestible data is largely visual -- it's charts and graphs, and often more than just one on a single dashboard. Once, it was numbers on a page, but that time is now in the distant past. 

Mobile screens, however, are tiny compared to computer screens. Recreating desktop dashboards doesn't work particularly well on a mobile device. Recreating the analytic capabilities of desktop device, therefore, doesn't work either.

Instead, the vendors who have developed successful BI for mobile apps have viewed phones and tablets as different entities than desktop computers, and they've created a different experience on their mobile apps.

"[The phone] is not an effective tool for doing data analysis," said Donald Farmer, principal at TreeHive Strategy in Woodinville, Wash. "It's an effective tool for conveying short, well-formatted, concise insights. The people who have done a good job … have focused on that. They pick out significant things to tell you on the phone in a format that works for a mobile device, but they're not trying to give you an analytic tool on a mobile device – that wouldn't be practical or helpful."

[The phone] is not an effective tool for doing data analysis. It's an effective tool for conveying short, well-formatted, concise insights. The people who have done a good job … have focused on that.
Donald FarmerPrincipal, TreeHive Strategy

Similarly, the vendors that have developed good mobile apps have developed their apps specifically for mobile devices, noted Mike Leone, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

"First and foremost, [a good mobile BI app is] one that is designed from the ground up for a mobile device," he said. "I've seen all too often organizations try and port their applications and [user interfaces] to a mobile device and the results are underwhelming and in some cases unusable."

The good and the bad

More than a decade ago, in 2008, Yellowfin introduced its first mobile app. The vendor updated it once, and it didn't attract many users.

But, recently the vendor completely overhauled the app, instead of attempting to recreate the desktop experience, transforming it into a timeline that looks and acts much like social media feeds. The mobile interface now highlights what it deems to be the most pertinent information and presents it in a way mobile users can easily view it.

Yellowfin CEO Glen Rabie said that he realized BI for mobile could be effective only if "the content and experience being delivered are uniquely designed for mobile versus trying to force fit a dashboard desktop experience onto a phone."

MicroStrategy, which started developing its app in 2009, is another vendor that's invested aggressively in BI for mobile.

"For us, we've always been focused on intelligence everywhere, how to arm as many people as possible," said Hugh Owen, senior vice president of product marketing at MicroStrategy. "Mobile opened up another opportunity to arm people who aren't looking at BI on their desktop with BI."

While some BI software vendors have invested in creating effective mobile apps, others have all but ignored mobile innovation or ineffectively tried to simply recreate the desktop experience on mobile devices.
While BI vendors have invested heavily in developing their desktop computing software, many have chosen not yet to make the same kind of investment in their mobile apps.

The vendor's current BI for mobile capabilities enables clients to build custom apps. Retail customers, for example, are able to embed the ability to execute transactions.

Meanwhile, MicroStrategy offers HyperIntelligence for Mobile as part of its HyperIntelligence product line. The app, due to its augmented intelligence and machine learning capabilities, provides a level of contextual understanding and intuitively provides users with information cards.

"If you walk into a store, it gives you a card about the store without you asking," Owen said. "It can look at your calendar, scan through words and invitations, and match it with cards and give you a push note. It's proven to be a different approach, and it's helped us stand out."

Domo, according to Farmer, is another vendor that has learned how to adapt BI for mobile. So have Qlik and Oracle.

But there are many others that have struggled to develop an effective BI for mobile app and have "an unclear strategy with some mobile being done but nothing very exciting and nothing very compelling," Farmer said.

Innovation

Despite the limits placed on BI for mobile by a phone's miniscule screen, there remains room for growth.

Phones and tablets have unique capabilities that desktop computers don't.

Among the features they possess that desktop devices don't is GPS. And while desktop devices also have cameras, the cameras on mobile phones and tablets are, well, mobile, while the ones on desktops are rooted in place.

Thanks to GPS, for example, someone who has business in multiple locations can travel to a location and -- using a well-designed BI for mobile app -- get actionable data about that location delivered directly to their mobile device.

"A good mobile app leverages the physical appendages of the phone or tablet," Owen said. "It's aware of your location and takes advantage. It uses the camera to take a picture and scan a QR code or other bar code -- you wouldn't do that with a clamshell laptop."

The next step in the evolution of BI for mobile, according to Owen, is becoming more proactive rather than reactive by using AI and machine learning and learning behavioral patterns.

"It's presenting answers back to you before you know you need it," he said.

Vendors will also need to address security as the development of BI for mobile apps progresses.

"All too often, workers will utilize their personal devices for work," Leone said. "With security top of mind for virtually every organization, ensuring the right level of controls and governance are in place, not just based on a user, but based on the device, will be important going forward."

Ultimately, however, mobile devices are tools to connect people so that they can converse. The vendors who view them for what they are and develop BI for mobile apps that take advantage of a mobile device's unique powers are the ones who will set the pace for innovations.

"It's not a device for deep contemplation and analysis -- it's a device to look at to glimpse to see what's important -- so a really good mobile app does two things," Farmer said. "It enables the glimpse of what is important, and it enables the communication of that, because ultimately mobile devices are communication devices."

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