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What do Mobile BI and the Weather Have in Common?

2011-08-18 072

Mobile business intelligence continues to grow as a hot topic in almost all industries, but we see just as many people screwing it up as we see people getting it right.  One of the biggest mistakes we see people make is putting the wrong data on users’ devices.

The best way to understand this problem is to look at what you already do on your mobile phone and compare that to what you do on your PC or Mac. Can they do many of the same things? Yes. Is that how you use them? Probably not. Here are some of the most successful mobile applications:

  • Calendar and reminders
  • SMS and BlackBerry Messenger
  • Email
  • Twitter, Facebook and other social networks
  • Maps and directions
  • Foursquare
  • Stock market apps
  • Weather
  • News

So what characteristics define success on mobile vs. success on other devices like your PC?

  • You use your PC when you need to type a long document like this one, or do some heavy number crunching or detailed research. It’s just plain better, and not just because it has a keyboard and a bigger monitor. It’s also better because you are usually sitting down, in a somewhat controlled environment and you have the time to focus.
  • You use your mobile when you are doing things that are meant for the ‘here and now,’ such as telling someone you are late, sending a text message about something you just saw, or looking up directions to a restaurant when you are on the way. Most of these things are either time or location sensitive, making them uniquely mobile.
  • Location. People use their mobile device is because it is just that – mobile. Other than email and a few other activities, the types of information you interact with when you aren’t at your desk are often different and for good reason. If you drive a truck and maintain power lines and fix outages all day, you are truly remote and you have much less of a need for heavy data processing – you need answers so you can make decisions regardless of your location.

Here’s the problem: many people consider mobile BI just a mobile version of traditional BI. They approach a mobile BI project as an effort to cram their existing BI tools and reports onto the nearest device as it it were a clown car, and this most often fails.  They are different, and should be treated as such.

So what are the key types of data that are truly meant for the mobile device? While the answer is very broad and is unique to every business, there are some key characteristics that can help us narrow down what we should be looking at:

  • Operations data – things that stop the “trains” from running on time.
  • Time-sensitive information – If you need to know quickly when there is an issue or an opportunity.
  • Mission-critical data – many of our customers use our software in mission-critical environments where decision support with key metrics can help avoid major disasters.
  • Remote data – are your subject matter experts fewer than your locations, and are your facilities and assets distributed. Extreme examples of this include wind farms (where the farms are remote, and the turbines are even remote within the farm) and oil & gas refining (pipelines, oil rigs, etc.).

Just like defining the right role, choosing the right data to put in front of people is critical to the success of any mobile business intelligence deployment. Taking your existing business intelligence data (which is often more focused on longer-term planning and reporting) and trying to shove it onto a mobile device can be not only painful, but also highly ineffective.

Want to know more?  Download our free Mobile BI guide to read about several other key mistakes and how to avoid them.

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