Why Your Business Intelligence Apps Need a Tablet Strategy

Tuesday Sep 28th 2010 by Larry Marion
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As the iPad and competing tablets take over the workplace, business intelligence applications must become compatible with this form factor.

Just when you thought you were finished developing interfaces between your business intelligence systems and client desktops, laptops and smartphones, another device category pops up and becomes the new coding emergency.

Sorry about this, folks, but you now need to develop a strategy for tablet users who want to access business intelligence system data and analytics tools.

The Apple iPad has moved the slate/tablet form factor to the forefront. It is the hot, chic device de jours and every CEO wants one. In response, other hardware vendors are introducing compelling products that will provide the convenience and ease of use of a smartphone but a display conducive to doing real work.

The Samsung Galaxy, Dell’s Streak and the just announced Playbook from the maker of Blackberry, among others, should be on your radar screen as potential business intelligence mobile access devices of choice in the not too distant future.

Six months ago mobile Business Intelligence discussions focused on BI access via smartphones like the iPhone and the Blackberry. Gartner analyst Kurt Schlegel included mobile BI as one of nine emerging trends in the business intelligence software market , but he and others (including me) were focused on smartphones. They’re ideal devices to provide alerts, displays of a few key performance indicators and PDFs of pre-fab reports for senior executives and road warriors. However, the small screen size and tiny keys preclude use of analytics, drill down investigations or other standard BI exercises.

Right now end user demand for smartphone-based BI access tools is weak due to those and other limitations. “We have as yet to see a significant uptick in real requirements,” notes Bob Kemper, SVP of development at PivotLink, a cloud BI vendor. “We get a lot more questions around ‘what do you think about mobile BI’ and ‘do you have plans’ than we hear ‘we need this for the following use cases/reasons.’”

So it’s no surprise that a new survey by Dresner Advisory Services found extremely low penetration at the majority of the almost 200 companies responding to the poll. That means while most companies are providing email and other generic corporate data center access to mobile devices, only a relative handful provide links between mobile devices and their business intelligence systems.

That’s changing fast, though. In two years, half the companies will have at least 20% of their users accessing BI data and tools via a mobile device, and a third of the companies will be at 40%, according to the Dresner report.

By 2012 almost half the out-of-office employees will be able to access BI systems. “This market is moving lightning fast,” notes Dresner, as a variety of tablet operating systems, form factors and capabilities vie for market position.

Dresner set up a web site offering more information about the survey, and has a Webinar on mobile BI on October 25.

Tablets offer important capabilities to road warriors due to the bigger screen, touch keyboard and other features. The ability for two people to look at the same data on the same device and start poking the touch screen to drill down for detailed insights will enhance collaboration in restaurant meetings and other out-of-the-office settings.

A production manager and an inventory manager standing in a warehouse and analyzing real-time analytics forecasts to determine optimum storage and shipping plans will be one of many compelling applications driving tablet use for BI access.

“Users are already getting value out of these devices—they have changed the way they work,” notes Dresner. “This is a fundamental paradigm shift.”

Forget Standardization

In response to the iPad hype, though, some IT managers are trying to standardize on one mobile device form factor and operating system. It’s great that those CIOs and other IT executives decided not to remain in denial about the new tablet platform and its importance. But it is way too early to standardize on one platform.

The CEO or the CFO may insist that IT interconnect their cool new iPad toy to the data warehouse, but the IT department needs a tablet strategy that includes more than one OS and device.

This tablet OS and form factor competition is not going to play out like the PC revolution in the 1980s. While the Windows operating systems may dominate the world’s desktops and the laptops, and the Blackberry OS is king of the corporate smartphone world right now, the tablet scene will be heterogeneous for several years.

Other Datamation columnists, including Jeff Vance, have also noted this trend in mobile development.

Dresner calls the Android OS from Google, used in the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the upcoming Dell tablet, “a dark horse” that can’t be ignored for use as a BI access device. And since most IT managers are already comfortable with the Blackberry OS thanks to its robust security and management tool set, the new OS from Blackberry’s parent company may be a player as well.

Add in the iPad and Windows 7 to the mix and it’s clear that it is way too early to make a standardization bet for mobile devices accessing BI systems.

Instead, Dresner and others say this is the time for proof-of-concept programs. IT managers should be setting up small teams to experiment with the various form factors and operating systems. For some, the 10-inch screen of the iPad might be the right size, while road warriors may prefer the 7-inch screen of the Samsung Galaxy, Dresner notes. Whatever the case, in today’s heterogeneous mobile environment you won’t lack for user guinea pigs willing to be part of the beta tests.

ALSO SEE: Ten Leading Business Intelligence Software Solutions

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