Having business applications available while away from the office is nothing new; neither is using mobile devices as an integral part of a business process. Until recently, however, the former has mostly consisted of standard PC applications running on a laptop, and the latter has largely been the realm of specialist, often ruggedized mobile devices used for a single purpose, such as delivery tracking or stock-taking. The advent of smartphones and tablets has changed the dynamics of what mobility means in a business context.

One driver clearly has been the desire of business professionals to stay in touch and keep workflows moving even when not at their desk: 58% of information workers use a smartphone and 30% use a tablet for work (either employer-provided or personal). Even more importantly, the executives holding the purse strings have discovered the power of mobile. Not that tablet-toting business leaders are anything new; the “cool factor” of the iPad in particular meant that it quickly became a status symbol. But there’s been a more subtle revolution behind the scenes: once early adopters had started moving towards the electronic distribution of board papers, board members themselves started spreading the message, challenging organizations that were still paper-bound to go digital.

Having these very senior executives rely on their tablets as an essential tool has had two effects: One, many of them started asking why they couldn’t also have access to regular KPIs and other business information via their tablets. Two, it’s made it easier to have discussions about investment in BI. And that doesn’t just apply to the mobile element: When senior executives are unhappy about the timeliness or detail of the information in front of them, it’s not only an opportunity to engage them in a discussion about what can be done to remedy the situation, it also increases the likelihood that funds will be made available.

At the same time, mobile BI applications have become more readily available and more function-rich. Early mobile BI offerings either lacked important functionality (e.g., they simply replicated existing reports and dashboards as static displays) or weren't optimized for the mobile device (e.g., insufficient gesture support or navigation not suited to a mobile interface). Companies that required support for platforms other than iPad also found their options limited. This picture has changed: Established BI vendors have been working hard to enhance their mobile offerings, and the number of mobile BI solutions from both existing BI specialists and new market entrants has increased considerably. Frequent updates and a continuous drip-feed of new features by a number of vendors are forcing a higher pace of innovation across the entire mobile BI landscape and are also giving enterprises greater confidence in finding a solution that meets their needs.

There is plenty of evidence already that deploying a mobile BI solution is about much more than mobilizing information delivery. Whether it's executives or field engineers, knowledge workers or hospital staff, there is an increasing realization that extending BI applications to mobile devices can transform entire business processes as well as individuals' work patterns. More than that, we may finally be seeing the democratization of BI that we’ve been waiting for: putting the right information in the hands of the right person at the right time.

In many ways, though, this is just the beginning: comparatively few organizations — or vendors — are today making use of mobile device features such as GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, or camera. Those that have realized the potential of exploiting these capabilities will be setting new standards for process optimization and service delivery. Those who ignore mobile BI today may well find themselves at competitive disadvantage in the future.  

Interested in a more in-depth discussion of this topic? Read the Forrester report Market Overview: Mobile Business Intelligence. Further materials on the broader topic of mobile can be accessed at Forrester’s microsite Embrace The Mobile Mind Shift.