Mobile BI Comes of Age

One of the hot topics in the Business Intelligence industry is mobility.  More specifically the question is how business can be transformed by the iPhone and the iPad.  In June 2003, Gartner predicted that Mobile BI would be obsolete and that the technology was headed for the 'trough of disillusionment'.  I agreed with them at that time.  Many vendors like MicroStrategy and Business Objects jumped into the fray attempting to show how PDA's like Palm Pilots could be integrated with BI.  Their investments resulted in interesting demos with no commercial traction.  Why, because wireless networks and mobile operating systems were primitive, immature and slow.

In my opinion, Apple's iOS has changed everything in Mobile BI.  Yes Blackberry, Android and Symbian and all the rest have their place in the market but I believe that increasingly consumers (not IT departments) influence BI decision making processes.  Consumers are choosing the iPhone and the iPad.

The number of iPads I see in business meetings now is staggering.  Some use it for email and note taking and others are starting to use corporate applications.  The possibilities for Mobile BI are countless and I would expect to see iPads enterprise-wide over the next few years.   These new devices will provide just-in-time access to critical business information.  Front-line managers interacting with customers, suppliers, patients or citizens will have information literally at their fingertips.

I've experimented with several mobile BI tools.  They look cool but like their Executive Information System (EIS) predecessors of the 1990's these tools lack a backbone and a plausible integration strategy.  EIS was a viral technology in the early 1990's.  Executives from every industry and job function were showcasing their dashboards to fellow co-workers and colleagues at the country club.  Just like the iPad, every senior manager wanted one.  EIS wasn't a device however, it was a software application.   EIS quickly faded into the software sunset as it lacked integration with corporate information systems.  BI servers  replaced EIS because the technology focused on the heavy data lifting of integrating, normalizing, aggregating and managing large, complex data volumes.  The devices are here to stay. The cute stand-alone mobile BI tools, not so much.

If all you're looking to do is put Excel files on your iPad, there are plenty of free tools on the market.  You'll look cool at your next management meeting but after a few weeks, the cool factor will fade away and you'll be wondering how you will ever maintain it.  If however you want secure, consistent, reliable information on your iPad, you need an integration strategy and a way to model the data.  BI Server technologies like the Oracle BI Foundation is a market leading approach to tackle that issue.

I liken the BI mobility frenzy to buying classic cars.  Classic Cars have two buying groups - teenagers and middle-age folks looking to tinker.  Teenagers look at the pin-stripes and the paint job while middle-agers (like me)  kick the tires a bit and look under the hood to check out the quality and reliability of the engine.  Mobile BI tools sure look sexy but don't go very far without an engine and a transmission or an integration strategy.

The strategic question in Mobile BI is can these startups build a motor and transmission faster than Oracle can re-paint the car?  Oracle has a great engine and a transmission that connects to all enterprise information assets.  We're working on the new paint job and are excited about the possibilities.  Just as vertical integration worked in the automotive business, it too works in the technology industry.


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