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Mobile Business Intelligence: Growing enterprise demand for real-time information: Soumen Mukerji, Associate Director, Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers

March 01, 2012
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The world of communication has changed significantly over the last few years. In the first 100 years after the discovery of telephony, the progress was in measured steps. It took more than a century for the development of mobile phones and since then, the pace of development has increased dramatically. In the last five years in particular, this progression has taken the shape of a hockey stick and is now being widely touted as the consumerisation of communication. Tablets and smartphones have made it possible to stay connected in real time, which is interactive as well as enjoyable. Analysts believe that future developments will be largely driven by mobility, leveraging the cultural revolution of online collaboration and social networking.

In a recent global CEO survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), corporate leaders were asked to respond to questions regarding the likely focus on IT investments and their objectives. About 70 per cent of the CEOs believed that IT investments are meant to improve operational efficiencies and growth, and that there is an urgent need to embrace emerging technologies such as mobility and data analytics.

The proliferation of platforms and devices as well as new applications is opening up several opportunities for the wireless market. But to capitalise on these opportunities, enterprises need to adopt a new ecosystem of mobility that supports easy access and democratisation of information, and provides a sophisticated technology backbone to support traffic.

The benefits of adopting a robust enterprise mobility strategy are quantifiable and direct. Corporations around the world are realising this, and are adopting and enabling mobility in more ways than one.

Enterprise mobility is removing old barriers and reshaping the rule books. In a world of ubiquitous smartphones and tablets, the leadership does not have to depend on a scheduled routine for accessing reports and information. Today, the demand for information is in real time and this information is delivered in a hyper-personalised format on hand-held devices. Globalisation has made business travel a way of life and, consequently, the need to be “in the know” while “on the fly” has given birth to a new generation of information delivery – mobile business intelligence (mBI).

Before understanding the dimensions of mBI, it is worthwhile to understand the genesis of this trend. A recent study by PwC across the C-suite is focused on the nature of information availability on mobile devices. BlackBerry had revolutionised corporate communication by making emails available on hand-held devices – this was the first taste of information on the move for most corporate executives.

Benefits of mBI solutions – In a recent survey, research firm Gartner identified the key benefits of adopting mBI solutions. While many of the benefits may seem commonsensical and obvious, access-related benefits (easy, pervasive and fast) have the majority share, which would provide independence from the static information exchange that classical BI models are based on.

Collateral benefits of mBI solutions are as follows:

•   Ability to make real-time business decisions by virtue of information availability at the fingertips: In a recent case study, the CEO of a commodity manufacturing organisation reported a quantum improvement in his ability to realise better prices in a commodity market by adopting mBI. His production schedules and inventory positions are now available in near-real time, which allows him to plan schedules better. The key features of exceptions and alerts on several business parameters are activated in the mBI solution, which allows the CEO to manage his business in a more effective manner.

•   Increased collaboration between the field force and the headquarters through frequent and relevant information exchange on target achievements: The chief operating officer (COO) of a beverage company improved the fill rates in the secondary market and developed a culture of maintaining a target-based daily sales routine by implementing mBI across a large field force. Following the adoption of the solution, sales representatives did not need to wait for a report on the weekend to gauge their performance – mBI enhanced the performance discipline through daily reports on their smart devices. This was as much a change in the culture as in technology adoption. The “push” element in the mBI solution, which allowed the field force to review their performances, could also be manifested in a “pull” mechanism which enabled the COO to retrieve BI through mobile devices. This model supports advanced data visualisation including interactive charts, graphs and maps.

•   Faster response to customers: An insurance company adopted enterprise mobility to empower its field service agents with key decision parameters in order to customise the policy sales process. In the past, agents had to rely on the back office to get a quote and revert to the customer to sell a policy. Using a mobility solution, these agents are now able to generate a quote much faster and while still with the client prospects – thus reducing the sales cycle time and improving conversion prospects.

Implementation of an effective mBI solution requires focus on key parameters:

•   Identification of information types and the frequency of delivery: Customers are likely to be the C-suite executives with a limited attention span and time in hand. It is important to identify the nuggets of information and analytics that would interest them, and avoid sending additional data. The focus needs to be on capsules of insights and desired frequencies, so that decision-making is expedited.

•   Visualisation of information in line with platform and device specifications: mBI thrives on the art of graphics and design aesthetics. A picture can convey a pattern faster than a statistical table. Effective BI – be it on mobile devices or traditional toolsets – needs to acknowledge the importance of data visualisation. The perfect graphical representation will depend on the platform and the device features, and most operating systems for smartphones offer BI applications for basic reporting.

•   Choice of the technology framework – devices, platforms, firewalls, BI tools and applications: The biggest conundrum for IT organisations is to choose the right product ecosystem and the technology stack from the myriad options available in the market. The right choice would depend on factors like convenience, economy, integration with existing IT assets and versatility of the application.

•   Integration with source systems: The strength and utility of a BI solution are proven by its ability to provide a cohesive enterprise performance management framework that draws data from multiple source systems. This challenge becomes more acute in an mBI solution which is aimed at providing relevant intelligence in a concise manner. Several device providers have brought out mobile applications to address this need. The organisations need to make a choice between direct integration with the corporate databases allowing a “pull” or using a batch file to “push” information to mobile devices. There are considerations for costs, security and latency in both the options and one should weigh the options before making a choice.

BYOD and interoperability issues

Gartner estimates that by 2013, 38 per cent of US employees and 20 per cent of European employees will work with their own devices. Bring your own device (BYOD) is a phenomenon that is catching the world of mobility by storm. The demand from the Gen Y workforce to allow them to use their personal (and very often hyper-customised) devices and applications at workplaces is leading to concerns related to security and interoperability with the IT backbone. The enterprise mobility ecosystem needs to overcome this challenge through a mix of awareness campaigns and redefined security protocols, and by driving a uniform standard of application/device architecture. mBI solutions need to cater to the BYOD trend, which would essentially impose a requirement on the BI solution to be capable of being delivered across a range of devices and platforms.

Network dependency: speed, costs, quality

The basic premise of any mobile solution is the availability of the mobile network and the quality of connectivity. Corporations accustomed to access through LAN environments may often find the decreasing speed of download and high latency a major challenge. 3G will address the problem as much as the downward pressure on roaming charges and other tariff elements. Adoption of mBI will be inextricably linked to these elements of the network as corporations will piggyback on the large telecom investments to unleash the power of mobility for corporate performance measurement.

Conclusion

Mobility of business intelligence is a classic case study where IT organisations are being tested on their home turf. Today, workers demand and deserve the power of mobility at their workplace. Modern-age CXOs have realised the power of mobility for enterprise performance management and are impatient for more information. Organisations that adopted mBI have already realised the benefits. The onus is now on the IT community to remove adoption barriers and provide simple, common and global standards for these solutions.

 
 
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