Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tablet PCs & BI: Are they made for each other?

Six months ago mobile Business Intelligence discussions focused on BI access via smartphones like the iPhone and the Blackberry. Gartner analyst Kurt Schlegel included mobile BI as one of nine emerging trends in the business intelligence software market , but he and others (including me) were focused on smartphones. They’re ideal devices to provide alerts, displays of a few key performance indicators and PDFs of pre-fab reports for senior executives and road warriors. However, the small screen size and tiny keys preclude use of analytics, drill down investigations or other standard BI exercises.

Right now end user demand for smartphone-based BI access tools is weak due to those and other limitations. Tablets offer important capabilities to road warriors due to the bigger screen, touch keyboard and other features. The ability for two people to look at the same data on the same device and start poking the touch screen to drill down for detailed insights will enhance collaboration in restaurant meetings and other out-of-the-office settings.

A production manager and an inventory manager standing in a warehouse and analyzing real-time analytics forecasts to determine optimum storage and shipping plans will be one of many compelling applications driving tablet use for BI access.

Users have already started getting value out of these devices. They have changed the way they work. This is a fundamental paradigm shift. Tablet devices like iPad can turn BI from “Get me the information” to “I will get the information myself (as long as I can do this on my iPad).” The more people in an organization that are getting their own information, the more the use of information for decision-making will evolve in that organization, as users become more accustomed to the data they have and how they can use it. Answering one question with interactive data often leads to users seeing another question they want to ask, and hence navigating through the information -- providing the navigation is easy enough to do. This is in contrast to the type of BI landscape where other people provide management with a printed report or even a static online report.

Table PCs like iPad will change the way user consumes the information. Apple iPad makes it so easy to consume information that many users, who were reluctant to use BI, will start using BI. As part of its Predicts 2011 body of research, Gartner has identified four key BI predictions to help organizations plan for 2011 and beyond. They have predicted that 33% of of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices by 2013. These are very conservative numbers. These numbers will increase exponentially as more and more tablet devices are released in the market. It will eventually bring down price of tablets and make it more affordable.

In a recent Aberdeen survey of 277 companies with business intelligence systems, employee usage of these systems doubled with mobile BI. Tablet BI will be more interactive and enables us to access information when and where decisions are made, not just when we are at our desks. Tablet PC’s large screen provides a superior user experience to that of smartphone and lets mobile users drill deeper into data. Increase in usage of tablets will increase BI usage and vice versa. They are made for each other.


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