What is mobile BI?
Legacy business intelligence software is limited to the computer or server that the network is stored on. Unless a user can physically access a business's servers, they can't use the software.
This approach has several problems. First, an employee that's out of the office usually won't be able to access any data. To use their BI system, they have to be physically interacting with on-premise servers. This means that employees that need data analysis for their role can't do their job remotely.
Second, it means that business can only be done during business hours. The company servers have to be up and running for the software to work, and the office has to be open. If there's a problem after hours or over the weekend, it can't be solved until regular business hours without disrupting personal lives.
Additionally, it puts businesses at the mercy of their physical computer systems. If there's a computer malfunction or a server goes down unexpectedly, no one will be able to access the BI system. This can magnify seemingly minor technical issues into massive problems and lost profits.
It's clear that on-premise BI systems have some major flaws. While some situations still might call for them, they're often a poor choice for businesses that want to act quickly and stay competitive.
Cloud-based BI software represents the next step in business intelligence solutions. Instead of storing the BI software on physical, on-premise servers, businesses can store their software on the cloud.
With cloud-based BI tools, anyone with the proper credentials and an Internet connection can connect to a business's BI system, anytime and from anywhere. Most BI tools are cloud-based nowadays, even some systems that started out as exclusively on-premise.
Most employees aren't carrying around laptops everywhere they go, though. A cloud-based BI tool has the potential to be massively useful, but unless a tool can run natively on modern mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, employees won't use it.
Many business intelligence companies also offer mobile BI solutions in addition to their desktop and web-based applications. Some allow users to access web-based tools through a mobile browser, but many have built their own apps that allow for native mobile operation.
What are mobile BI apps like?
Business intelligence companies take a few different approaches to their mobile BI applications. Some mobile apps are scaled down and limited compared to their desktop and web-based versions, while other vendors try to provide the same functionality on every platform.
Since these tools are running on smartphones and other mobile devices, their user experience tends to differ fairly heavily from that same tool's desktop and web app experience. The smaller screens and touch inputs of a smartphone necessitate different approaches to user input.
Most mobile apps, like Tableau's, are designed for the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets.
Often, it's more difficult to do complex tasks using a BI tool's mobile app. Complicated procedures like ad-hoc analysis, connecting data sources, and building out new dashboards are tasks that are better suited for desktop operation. A mobile device's physical attributes tend to limit how useful they can actually be.
However, that doesn't mean that mobile BI apps are completely useless. For viewing visualizations and running simple reports, some might actually find a smartphone app more useful than a desktop. It's much less time-consuming to pull out a phone and view a visualization quickly than to start up a computer, open the browser, and navigate to the right page.
Mobile apps often have intuitive, innovative control schemes. With touch controls, users can see data in new ways and navigate through dashboards quicker. Tasks that might take complicated inputs on a desktop app can be simplified down to just a few finger presses on mobile.
Some inputs are simpler on mobile as well. While it might be easier to input text using a physical keyboard, smartphones can allow users to input pictures, audio, and video into their BI tools right from their phone. For BI tools where write-back, the ability to input new data directly into a BI tool without using another software source, is important, mobile apps can make life much easier.
Mobile apps can leverage the unique potential of the smartphone in many other ways, as well. Some tools have GPS integration, which help users find the location data that's most important to them. Other tools allow users to cache data on a mobile device, so that the data can still be viewed when the device is offline.
Key mobile BI features
Every mobile BI tool is different, and some software vendors don't make their mobile app as much of a priority as their desktop tools. Before making a decision, look for these key features.
Mobile apps should be able to notify their user in some way if there's something that needs their attention. Through push notifications, employees can see important alerts and information right on their home screen.
Dashboarding and visualizations
Users should be able to view important dashboards and visualizations easily from their mobile device. Most tools allow users to highlight a handful of dashboards and visualizations that can then be accessed easily from an app's landing page.
It's important that users are allowed to edit their own dashboards and what data shows up when. Employees should be able to adapt the app to best fit their own workflows. They should be able to hide data that they don't need and prioritize data that's important for their specific role.
Real-time data reporting
Data in the mobile app should update in real time, or as close to real time as possible. BI tools are only as useful as the data they display, and if they're displaying outdated and incorrect data, they can't be very useful.
Desktop and mobile apps should refresh their data at the same times and at the same rates. It can be a massive problem if desktop and mobile users are seeing two different versions of the same data set. While the functionality of a mobile app might be less compared to a desktop tool, the data they display should be the same.
Between Android, iOS, and other platforms, there's no clear market leader in the smartphone and tablet space. Mobile apps can differ slightly depending on the platform; an Android app might not have the exact same look and feel as the iOS version. Since employees will be using many different types of device, it's crucial that the mobile versions of a tool aren't that different from one another.
Some software vendors prioritize the iOS version of their tool, and some others focus on the Android version. A business that only uses Apple products might not mind their vendor prioritizing iOS, but if there's no device mandate, it can be frustrating if one version is clearly better than another.
Some tools, like Toucan Toco, are designed with a mobile-first mentality.
Mobile BI: Data on the go
With the power of cloud-based BI solutions, employees aren't chained to their desktop terminals anymore. Mobile BI apps allow users to view and analyze their data from anywhere, anytime. While some apps aren't as fully featured as their desktop counterparts, they're still valuable tools to help businesses move quickly, solve problems faster, and connect over long distances.
Regardless of the needs of your organization, there's a business intelligence tool that can handle it. There are BI tools meant for every stage of growth, any industry, and all use cases. Our BI experts can help you find the tool that's the best fit for your situation. Reach out for a no-cost consultation today.