Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Business Intelligence on Smart Phones: Not Just Humbug

I’m a bit behind on my reading so I just spotted a piece in the December 11, 2006 issue of InformationWeek about accessing business intelligence software on a mobile phone. (See “Power Of A Data Warehouse In The Palm Of Your Hand” available here.) The author is highly skeptical of the notion: “It remains to be seen how many mobile professionals actually need to slice and dice data from handheld devices. Data analysis has long been the realm of data warehouses and the fattest of client computers, not small screens and keypads.” On the other hand, she notes that Information Builders has already released a mobile-enabled product, Cognos is planning one for early next year, and Business Objects is working on a prototype.

In a world where people view TV shows on their iPods and make Web purchases on their cell phone, it’s dangerous to predict what people won’t do on small screens. Yes it’s unlikely that the heads-down statisticians will stream from their cubicles to data mine on a park bench: they need those big displays, powerful workstations and fast network connections. But there are plenty of prebuilt analyses that can be called up with a couple of keystrokes. Most would relate to limited situations, such as activities with a particular customer or product. As smart phones become more powerful, weary-shouldered road warriors will be increasingly eager to transfer applications that still force them to carry a laptop.

The more intriguing question is what new business intelligence functions a smart phone platform would make possible. Smart phones have at least two capabilities that regular computers do not: location awareness and visual input. It’s easy to imagine how an insurance adjuster or real estate agent might combine these with business intelligence to do on-the-spot analysis of damage estimates, fraud probability, or market value. A geo-spatial application might help field workers rearrange their routes to accommodate changes in schedule or traffic conditions. Even with a confined space such as a shopping mall, office building or airport, analytical software on mobile devices might send cashiers, gate agents and other workers to where they are needed most, improving both employee productivity and customer experience.

There are certainly other, more creative applications. The point is that a smart phone is more than a computer with a really tiny keyboard. Business intelligence vendors who want to take full advantage of the smart phone platform will not just convert their existing applications, but add new and unique ones that were never before possible.


James Taylor said...

Interesting. Like Elena I am pretty sceptical. Check out this post on the topic.

David Raab said...

James - No, I don't expect a lot of deep analysis to happen in the field. But I must say that I like the image of all those oppressed statisticians blinking into the sunlight like H.G. Wells' Morlocks.

Still, I'm sure the business intelligence vendors would argue that much of what they do, or could do, is similar to what you describe as Enterprise Decision Management. (Incidentally, there's a big difference between skeptical and cynical. I freely admit to being both.)

Oudi Antebi said...

BI nowadays is becoming a critical component of tracking the health of the business or simply the health of a business process. Almost every person in an organization has some kind of data tracking mechanism to help look at the “what’s going on”. So the mobile device integration could be as simple as having that data handy wherever you go and does not necessarily mean “slicing and dicing on the go”. Think about KPIs and the ability to see on a device the real time status of a KPI….

At Panorama (and I should mention that I work for we are actually taking a relatively simplistic approach to “BI on devices” by RSS enabling any report, KPI or analytical view. By doing so a user can subscribe to a report and chose to view it in any RSS reader. That reader could be on a hand held device or his home computer RSS reader. When a report is published, when a KPI is updated a user gets his subscribed data everywhere he goes.

David Raab said...

Oudi - I absolutely agree. Although the smart phone has capabilities unavailable to a notebook computer, it certainly can substitute for one as a data receiving device. If we've learned anything since the PC was introduced, it's to give users as much power as possible and let them find useful ways to take advantage of it.