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BI goes mobile: The future of information is here

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For many years, "pervasive" business intelligence (BI) was considered nirvana, a state achieved when operational insights are immediately accessible to decision makers, wherever and whenever they are …

For many years, "pervasive" business intelligence (BI) was considered nirvana, a state achieved when operational insights are immediately accessible to decision makers, wherever and whenever they are needed. Mobile data access platforms are among the technologies considered integral to helping organizations convert the blue-sky vision of just-in-time (JIT) data into actionable knowledge.

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  • 1. I Mobility BI Goes Mobile: The Future of Information is Here A brave new world of real-time knowledge is emerging, courtesy of smartphones and tablet computers that report, alert or enable on-demand sharing of business intelligence to support more collaborative and virtual ways of working. By Parth Sarathi Mukherjee and Karthik Krishnamurthy For many years, “pervasive” business intelligence (BI) was considered nirvana, a state achieved when operational insights in the form of data and/or reports are immediately accessible to decision makers, wherever and whenever they are needed. To others, the concept is little more than a pipe dream. Why the schism? Organizations have struggled to define exactly how pervasive they intend to be, even as technologies emerge that can enable “everyone” in the organization to have the “right information at the right time.” Mobile data access platforms are among the technologies considered integral to helping organizations convert the blue-sky vision of just-in-time (JIT) data into actionable knowledge. As the workplace evolves, the ways in which knowledge is created, accumulated, stored and applied will radically change. That’s important as more fully globalized and virtualized workplaces emerge, where knowledge workers (armed with smartphones and tablet PCs) will need to access information and business processes that live increasingly in the cloud. Without tools to deliver and distill raw information into more immediately useful forms, organizations will be challenged to unlock the more collaborative and productive ways of working that the future of work promises. Mobile BI will help organizations realize the pervasive BI dream today by delivering time-sensitive reports to on-the-go CXOs before they enter a critical meeting or providing traveling sales and service organizationshttp://cognizanti.cognizant.com COGNIZANTi 39
  • 2. with JIT customer/order information. In the longer term, mobile BI will enable better employee engagement by providing personalized, location-based intelligence for personal use and also acting as a source of collated customer information. What Innovators Are Doing In the mobile BI space, three key areas of immediate application are emerging: 1. Executive reports delivered to smart devices on pre-defined information needs, interlinked with the ability to initiate action based on these insights. 2. Mobile apps as the delivery mechanism for operational alerts, providing employees such as buyers and sales personnel with real-time alerts on operational developments, such as stock-outs, non-fulfillment of orders, product rejects and returns. 3. On-demand reports pulled by the field force (sales, service, etc.) to meet customized information needs based on live business requirements. Some of our clients have already embarked upon initiatives in each of the aforementioned directions. Here’s a look at some of these projects in detail. Mobile Reporting for CXOs In the future, workers and work will be increasingly mobile. CXOs, in particular, will increasingly find themselves untethered to a desktop or even a laptop and more reliant on smartphones and tablet computers. Between rushing from a satellite office to a business dinner, the information-hungry and savvy CXO will seek Forewarned is Forearmed The following are the key issues organizations need to be aware of before taking the mobile BI plunge: Security: Data residing in mobile phones and tablets require robust protection mechanisms, as these devices are prone to being lost or stolen. Organizations need to establish strong authentication, authorization and encryption practices to protect the remote usage of confidential information. Governance: Creation and publication of BI content needs to be centralized to make the pervasive environment more manageable and scalable. In order to ensure data integrity, organizations must establish centralized change management, cube management and data stewardship for mobile BI applications. BI Design: The data sent to users via handheld devices needs to be subjected to more scrutiny and standards than a regular desktop-accessed dashboard. With remotely situated employees already suffering from a multiplicity of distractions, mobile BI apps will see stiff competition for user attention. Designers of mobile BI apps must verify the content is important enough to be required when mobile, ensure a simple interface, provide information in a logical or hierarchical format, and use aesthetics that are crisp and enhance readability.40 COGNIZANTi http://cognizanti.cognizant.com
  • 3. better (and more timely) information through his or her smart device. Already, the bulk of North American CXOs now own either a BlackBerry or an iPhone (or both).1 Research firm Forrester reports that increased smartphone demand sets the stage for a surge in the use of personal smartphones for information work.2 CXOs at our client companies are increasingly relying on smartphones or tablet PCs such as the Apple iPad for information gathering and analysis tasks. Applications ported to mobile platforms include financial approval systems, enterprise KPI dashboards and strategy maps. The CEO of an entertainment company with which we work uses his BlackBerry to access BU-level business indicators and full reports before his weekly meetings with respective BU leaders. Mobile BI enables him to be closer to the action and gain a better appreciation of key business dynamics, in real time. Mobile Operational Alerts With more and more employees on the move, organizations will need to push alerts to handheld devices that can enable immediate action. Some business situations demand quick response; a delayed response can result in top-line or bottom-line harm. For example, a peripatetic purchasing manager should be alerted to an out-of-stock situation of raw material to prevent delays in fulfilling an important order. Competitive intelligence is another area where mobile alerts can play a strategic delivery role. Competitive product introductions and sales promotions will require an immediate response from the sales and marketing team, and mobile alerts will play a key role here. The benefits of mobile operational alerts can also be extended to other areas. Roving sales personnel can receive alerts on product sales and merchandising information based on the geographic area in which they are traveling. Sales personnel on the move can map sales data to pinpoint the highest revenue-generating areas and analyze the demographics of those areas to improve promotional and marketing efforts. A peripatetic purchasing manager should be alerted to an out-of-stock situation of raw material to prevent delays in fulfilling an important order. The application goes beyond sales and marketing. For example, one of Europe’s busiest airports implemented a mobile BI solution that helped air traffic managers improve their interactions with airline personnel. About 32% of total flights from the airport were delayed, and managers spent too much time shuttling between their office desktops, the printer and the airline office to discuss reasons for these delays. By deploying a mobile BI application, the airline has greatly improved this process, with managers accessing previous flight and delay histories from their handheld devices. With the move to mobile devices, BI adoption and end-user satisfaction rates at the airport have spiked. On-Demand Reports As many customer-facing executives will corroborate, better customer attention and service is largely dependent on having the right information when it’s needed most. Whether it’s the status of an order or a service request, there are times when sales and service personnel have been without required information. Mobile BI applications that can provide on-demand information to end users are slightly more challenging to implement than the two static and pre-defined needs described above. They require a mobile BI application that interacts with the enterprise data warehouse and BI system. Doing so, however, raises data security issues that need to be seriously considered and overcome. While organizations have built such systems already, and more and more new products are emerging that promise such capabilities, this more mature form of mobile BI has yet to find popular acceptance.http://cognizanti.cognizant.com COGNIZANTi 41
  • 4. These concerns did not deter a California-based technology company from adopting a real-time financial auditing and compliance analysis solution on a mobile platform. Initially, the company’s auditors would assign scores in a spreadsheet and then manually enter them using a PC. From there, it would take about a week for auditors to see a report to gauge discrepancies from historical performance and targets. With the mobile BI application, auditors enter real-time scores directly into the mobile device and receive a historical trend analysis and comparison with target values. This leads to immediate discussions, analysis and documentation of follow-up activities. Businesses that regularly use mobile phones as a medium to communicate with their employees will be among the earliest adopters of mobile planning applications. What Innovators Will Do While organizations have already started creating value-enhancing mobile BI solutions that make information more pervasive across the organization, there is still room for further development. In the future of work, we envisage mobile BI solutions playing a more important role. Two of these projects are described below: A mobile BI application for better employee engagement and mobile devices as data sources for BI systems. Employee Engagement As the workplace becomes more globally dispersed and business is increasingly performed by distributed teams, customizing and sharing work plans will become increasingly virtual. Employees in innovative organizations will require a mobile application to plan, collaborate and determine their activities and workload in an increasingly dynamic way. Businesses that regularly use mobile phones as a medium to communicate with their employees will be among the earliest adopters of mobile planning applications. These organizations will use smartphones to deliver location-specific intelligence to employees (by either push or pull from the enterprise data warehouse) for business planning purposes. While sales force and area managers are already using these applications for sales management, all employees can benefit from such intelligence. Organizations looking to apply a millennial mindset might even open up these applications to help employees more effectively plan leisure activities (weekends and holidays). Solutions like these will enable employees to create better work-life balance, and allow organizations to deliver a more engaging work experience, which will enable them to attract and retain the best and brightest of the millennial generation. Mobile Phones as Data Sources Mobile phones are already being used as data sources, more famously in the not-for-profit sector. UNICEF takes this approach with food distribution in drought-struck Ethiopia, while other non-government organizations have used mobile devices to collect data for healthcare and research activities. With the proliferation of Java-enabled smartphones that can tap Internet applications, such devices will become integral to collecting key customer and behavioral information for advanced customer analysis. As smartphones evolve into a preferred payment method for all kinds of purchases, they will also become an ever-important data source for understanding consumer buying behavior and product/service preferences.42 COGNIZANTi http://cognizanti.cognizant.com
  • 5. JIT Knowledge for Road Warriors As mobility and BI technologies converge, smartphones and tablet devices are being increasingly used to supply employees “on-the-move” with actionable intelligence. Several organizations, including those mentioned above, are already benefitting from these solutions. The role of mobile BI applications in creating a truly pervasive BI environment is unquestionable. Organizations that are spreading over diverse geographies with perennially mobile or dispersed employees will increasingly benefit from enhanced operational flexibility and timely availability of knowledge. Employees in innovative organizations will require a mobile application to plan, collaborate and determine their activities and workload in an increasingly dynamic way. In the future of work, mobile BI applications will have to play a “last-mile” role in delivering insights in increasingly virtual organizations. Companies adopting mobile BI must understand who in their organizations will benefit from using this technological capability. In its current form, mobile BI cannot replace mainstream BI applications. This makes it imperative for the organization to limit where and when it enables mobile BI and for which key business processes. The correct set of users with the right kinds of alerts, dashboards and on-demand information accessible from their smartphones will help to herald the future of any workplace. Karthik Krishnamurthy is the Global Business Leader for Cognizant’s Data Warehouse Business Intelligence and Performance Management Practice. Karthik holds a diploma in Business Administration from IIM Lucknow. He can be reached at Karthik_Krishnamurthy@cognizant.com. Footnote 1 “2010 U.S. CXOs Choice: Mobile Computing Products and Services,” Frost & Sullivan, March 8, 2010. 2 “Collaboration Needs Will Fuel A Smartphone Surge,” Forrester Research, Inc., January 6, 2010.http://cognizanti.cognizant.com COGNIZANTi 43