I get many questions about the usage, pervasiveness, and adaption of mobile BI applications. What's a mobile BI application? Beyond a simple delivery of alerts, URLs, or actual reports via email – functionality that has existed for years – here are a few newer approaches to deliver BI on a mobile device:
- The no brainer. In theory any mobile device equipped with a browser can access web based, thin client, HTML only BI applications. Yes, these BI apps will be mostly static, not interactive reports and dashboards. Navigation (scrolling, zooming, etc) will be quite awkward. But, this approach indeed requires no additional effort to deploy.
- Customization. The next step up is to render each (or all) reports and dashboards to a format suitable to any mobile device in terms of screen size, usage of screen real estate, and mobile device specific navigation instrumentation. A variation of this approach is to create device specific navigation controls (thumb wheel or thumb button for Blackberries, up/down/left/right arrows for Palms, gestural manipulation for iPhone, etc). This obviously requires more development effort, but still no additional software.
- Mobile BI server.This approach requires specialized software provided by a mobile or BI software vendor. The Mobile server can be setup to automatically render specified (or all) reports in a mobile device format. Basically, it's the same approach as in step 2, but the work and the effort now lies on the shoulders of a server, not a programmer.
- Mobile device client app. This is obviously the most advanced approach which allows full interactivity with BI content, optimized for a particular mobile device. Furthermore, this approach can allow for periodic, background syncrhonization and caching of BI data, which can then be viewed and analyzed even offline (airplanes without wi-fi, for example).
Other than usage by executives, key sales people and field service personnel, I do not see a wide spread usage of mobile BI apps deep and broad in organizations. But more importantly, I do see a trend of developing applications and architectures to allow a business user to continue to be productive using his/her laptop while in disconnected, offline mode. Any executive, salesperson, or a consultant who spends most of his/her time on the road will definitely appreciate ability to access most of the BI applications and content while being offline. I know I personally would love that kind of functionality, since I mostly live in seat 16C (yes, my status on some airlines often gets me exit row aisle seats) these days.