Data Warehouse to Go

Courtesy of InformationWeek

What's smarter than a smartphone?

An intelligentphone—a cell phone that displays business intelligence served up by an enterprise-class analytics system.

Information Builders last week became the first major BI vendor to offer a tool for crunching numbers from smartphones. The company introduced a mobile version of its WebFocus Active Reports, software for collecting, analyzing, and distributing company data. Previously, Information Builders and other BI vendors had made it possible to push data-analysis results to mobile devices, but this goes a step further by letting on-the-go professionals view reports, conduct calculations, create charts, and change chart types from the back of a cab.

About half of BI content will be enabled for mobile devices over the next two years, predicts Rado Kotorov, Information Builders' director of strategic product management. It remains to be seen how many mobile professionals actually need to slice and dice data from handheld devices. Data analysis has long been the realm of data warehouses and the fattest of client computers, not small screens and keypads.

"It's fine when you want to fill out a one-page, seven-question questionnaire on a smartphone," says Brian Lunde, an IS manager at LifeSource, an organization that links organ and tissue donors with transplant recipients. "But the moment you roll into the next round of data input that requires you to scroll through tons of information, I think users would revolt." LifeSource uses mBiztech's mDB Enterprise mobile application on BlackBerrys to manage and review staff schedules.

Information Builders renders reports so that they display on a mobile device's minute Web browser. Users can scroll vertically or horizontally to view a report, or they can choose to limit the number of records that appear on a page.

Among business users, the mobile application market is still maturing beyond wireless E-mail. Other common uses include accessing business information (such as a contact from a company directory), point of sale, and field service. Eighty-five percent of businesses anticipate that the number of employees accessing enterprise apps via mobile devices will increase next year, according to an InformationWeek Research survey of 527 business technology professionals conducted in October. "Only a subsegment of mobile workers would need to have access to analytics on the go," says Forrester Research analyst Maribel Lopez. "It's a niche market."

Regardless, BI vendors are about to plow in. Cognos is planning to roll out a mobile version of its business intelligence software for BlackBerry devices early next year. Cognos 8 Go Mobile will use the native functionalities of the BlackBerry, so users can interact with reports using the scroll wheel or export files into Excel, PowerPoint, or Word. It's a rich-client application that will have to be installed on BlackBerrys by IT administrators, not do-it-yourselfers. Cognos will make it available on other smartphones later in the year, says Paul Hulford, senior manager of product marketing.

Business Objects is working on a prototype called MoBI that lets users interact with BI content, view metrics live, and drill into performance data. The work is being done by Business Objects Labs, formed in November to develop next-generation products.

Thousands of consumer-oriented apps are available for smartphones; far fewer are specifically designed for mobile workers, and business intelligence hasn't been one of the early successes. That may or may not change, depending on how much information businesses are willing to cram onto a tiny screen.