Mobility, mobility and mobility! While it is not being said for the first time, mobility will be a lot more relevant in 2014 in the world of BI. Users at various organization levels own either a personal mobile device or one that was given to them by their employer. When people have an endless amount of information available to them at any time on a mobile device, it is expected that business information, critical to decision making, will be available in the same way. Users’ demand for mobile BI apps is going to increase by leaps and bounces, with non-iOS devices catching up fast as well.
Many BI vendors are adding mobility to their software offerings, however, supporting mobility alone will not address the mobile BI issue. The technology is there, development with HTML5 has already spread widely across product and solution building companies, but what we need is a commendable combination of rich visualization, more than just “acceptable performance” and an easy implementation with minimal disruption. That’s where the biggest challenge lies in my opinion and the solution that provides best of the combination will gain most popularity in 2014.
Let me elaborate on each of the three factors:
Without undermining the importance of the underlying BI environment and database design, I believe that visualization is a major key component of BI because it is directly accessed by end users and they are the one with power to adopt or discard a solution. Reporting and dashboards will continue to be popular among them, despite the push for self-service exploration and analytical tools. Even with the dependency on excel that many complain about, SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) is still the favorite dashboard development tool because of its rich and vast visualization options, ease of development and technology-agnostic data access. What I hear all the time is though exploration tools are useful, at the end of the day users want dashboards! I don’t believe self-service is answer to every BI question because first of all, not every user is an analyst and second, businesses find it very useful to receive dashboards that are already designed for them with the data they need, but without the headache of learning tools. Also, with 3rd-party add-ons like InfoBurst, companies are now able to deploy semi-analytical dashboards on iPads. I am positive about the potential of SAP Design Studio as a dashboard development tool, however I don’t see it gaining enough momentum this year. Xcelsius will prevail, even for mobility.
The demand for mobility is so high that users will be ready to tolerate a comparatively slower dashboard than a desktop version. But this will be acceptable only for a finite time after which vendors need to provide a solution that not only provides dashboard/reports in mobile, but also works fast. Software vendors are working towards that. For example, SAP dashboards introduced mobile dashboard built with Xcelsius with Query Browser as connectivity – which didn’t perform that well with large amount of data, primarily because it needed direct database hits. However, they are now offering offline download capability which is going to cache the data and provide better performance. I can’t help but mention the new InfoBurst capability which allows fast access to InfoBurst’s intelligent cache for offline and online connected dashboards on an iPad. In my opinion, once users get used to reports and visualizations directly on an iPad or other mobile devices their focus and demand will soon be on performance and for good reason.
Ease of Implementation
No matter how effective and fast a solution is organizations will always be skeptical about re-implementing BI systems just for the support of fast mobile BI apps. Therefore, vendors need to offer solutions that organizations can adopt without requiring them to reinvest. Customers will prefer add-on solutions, which allow mobile implementation not demanding re-engineering their whole architecture, new and rare skill sets and uncertainty in the outcome. While big vendors are creating hype for big expensive solutions, the majority of large organizations, where change is slow, will continue with existing solutions running third party add-ons in order to support mobility. Very few will want to risk their ongoing and already proven process in place.
In addition, there will definitely be a trend to adopt new solution offerings, which are comparatively inexpensive but easy to deploy, and of course mobile compatible. Those are the areas where a lot of new product companies can capitalize on. The big vendors need to consider enhancements and improvements to current products so that customers don’t need to re-write their BI implementations. Neglecting that will surely lead to more project failures than more success stories. However to end on a positive note, I am very hopeful about more successful BI projects this year enabling users more BI on mobile, with ongoing maturity of BI products and more knowledge and experience in the field.