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July 18, 2011


Mobile BI – Business KPIs and Dashboards “on-the-go”

by Ravi Kalakota


mobile-applicationsWho doesn’t want to achieve faster “time-to-information” and shorter “time-to-decision” for executives and managers with mobile BI?  Who doesn’t want to disseminate insights or KPIs to front-line employees, such as field sales representatives, line of business managers, and field service employees?

The question is not whether Mobile BI is a good idea but how to execute this program in a low-cost way?  How to design and deploy eye-popping “wow” apps? How to support, maintain and enhance these apps which are constantly changing?  What technology and infrastructure to put in for a national or global deployment? Who is going to fund all this plumbing – corporate, LoB or IT?

Business Analytics solutions for “always-on” 3/4G enabled mobile devices – iPads, iPhones, tablets, smart phones – are becoming prevalent as the form factor becomes appropriate for BI.   We are increasingly seeing firms build state-of-the-art dashboard solutions for iPads. The “post-desktop” apps provide senior management with intuitive interactive access to the company’s most important business KPIs and dealing with data overload.

Tablets, 4G Wireless and next gen displays (+gesture based, verbal interfaces) have enabled new productivity improvements and better ways to consume information, perform ad-hoc querying and scenario planning. Dashboard, heatmaps and scorecards on the iPad, iPhones and Androids are intuitive, attractive, powerful, available at any time and any place: a perfect mix for top managers, sales teams and even customers.

BI (and Information Management) is a natural fit for mobile devices.  Managers, blue and white workers spend a majority of their time away from their desks. Most are traveling, walking about or driving from site to site. And it’s these mobile workers who need the most up-to-date information. They need mobile BI to retrieve data to make on-the-spot decisions, monitor operational processes and review KPI, and work-in-process dashboards.

Is Mobile BI a fad or a trend?

  • With 500 million smartphones being sold in 2011, the consumerization of business analytics coupled with So-Lo-Mo (social, local, mobile) convergence is an unstoppable trend.  
  • Killer apps – Apple is selling a staggering number of iPhones and  iPads every quarter … cumulative sales of iPads alone (April 2012 – 67 million; January 2012 – 50 million).  All this without “true” enterprise adoption yet! 

Mobile BI addresses a big complaint against analytics  and information management for many years – not being easy to consume, chart and data overload, devices not secure.  Not any more.  Tablet devices are just right for mobile BI – small enough to carry and large enough to be effective. The early success of the iPad for BI has caught many experts by surprise.

Numerous corporations are leveraging the iPhone, iPad and Android phones to improve productivity via business-driven, data-rich mobile BI apps that transform how mobile executives and field users consume data and make informed business decisions.

As mobile becomes a “must-have” channel not a “nice-to-have” afterthought, the apps are getting more sophisticated (richer graphics and more easily consumable information on demand) and this further fuels adoption. We are moving away from the “shrink to fit” method of taking legacy business applications and simply downsizing them for the smaller, mobile screen. Shrink-to-fit is a dominant practice among major providers of BI that was not well received by users.

Before you can begin a mobile BI project, you need to answer these fundamental and important questions about your initiative(s):

  • What are the business questions I need to answer for Mobile BI initiative?
  • What is the staffing plan, including skills, roles, people and associated costs?
  • What are the user requirements with respect to performance, experience, ease-of-use?
  • What are the data inputs, and how will we map the data sources?
  • What are the required analytics?
  • What are the governance processes?
  • What are my project goals, success criteria, requirements and use cases?
  • What is my project plan and task list?
  • What are the risks, issues, mitigations?
  • What does success mean?  How do you measure success?

Address these questions, and I guarantee a higher probability of success. Mobile initiatives require careful planning and structured methodologies to be successful. Unfortunately, many IT teams are too time- and resource- constrained to execute methodically. There is a lot of shoot first and then aim going on (spray-and-pray).   That’s why you need experienced consultants who know how to run a project or a program.

The Case of Solvay – KPIs on- the- go

So what makes a good Mobile BI app?  Take the example of Solvay Group, an international industrial group.  Solvay is active in chemistry and chemical compounds, is headquartered in Brussels and employs about 14,800 people in 40 countries. In 2010, its consolidated sales amounted to EUR 7 billion.

To move from data to insights faster, Solvay reorganized its Corporate Performance Management environment.  They created a new “Reporting Factory” CoE or shared services model.  Solvay is not unique, more and more firms are executing on a CoE or Shared Services model to leverage Business Analytics talent better.

One of the objectives of the Reporting Factory CoE is enabling mobile dashboards for the workforce. Solvay’s Finance dept and Executive team wanted  to have a user-friendly reporting environment where they could look at the most important KPIs on-the-go using the iPad. The first app for Solvay is Executive Committee Dashboard for the iPad. The technology for building this on-the-go iPad app is MicroStrategy Mobile, an extension of their “Corporate Performance Management” environment.


Type of Mobile BI Dashboards/Scorecards

So, what is your mobile BI strategy? The business case for mobile BI is no longer hard to build.

Typically there are two types of dashboard/scorecard apps: executive level and employee level.

  • The executive dashboard enables management to track key performance indicators (KPIs) across their enterprise and monitor the pulse of the business.
  • The operational dashboard enables operational workers to monitor day-to-day operational activity and task performance.

Both types of dashboards display performance status according to plan and enable users to drill into detailed data and view time series charts that reflect past and future trends. The figure below lists the type of questions to address in formulating a Mobile BI business case.

The data for executive dashboards usually comes from a data mart or data warehouse or and consists of both summary and detail data loaded on a daily or weekly basis. However, if the dashboard tracks operational activity, then the data either comes from a real-time enabled data warehouse or directly from operational systems via real-time queries.

What makes Mobile BI interesting in industries like Travel, Retail and others with heavy consumer focus is the ability to integrate Camera and Maps into the BI mashups.  So-Lo-Mo (social, local, mobile) and So-Lo-Mo-Me (+personalized) and is creating new analytics opportunities.  Figure below shows these emerging capabilities.

Mobile BI Development Approaches to Dashboards/Scorecards

Typically the vendors and companies are using different mobile app development approaches:

  • Native app development — Purpose-built, workflow-driven apps that quickly and easily guide users through their data to discovery, analysis, or decision. Apps fully leverage mobile device capabilities, including the multi-touch interface, sensors (GPS or camera), communications (voice, email, text), and more.
  • HTML5 for mobile
  • Hybrid approach using the PhoneGap platform.
  • Intermediary solutions like RoamBIGeckoboard and the Klipfolio dashboard,  that leverage open Web standards to deliver BI visualizations that are comparable to native apps

For all type of dashboards, mobile device security remains a concern. So companies need to evaluate risk of information loss and train users accordingly. Sensitive data needs to be secured with additional layers of protection as necessary.

Vendors like MicroStrategy have recently made several mobile security upgrades to better support iPad and iPhone deployments. For instance, encryption is now applied to data while in transit from the MicroStrategy Mobile server to the MicroStrategy Mobile client (and when it is stored on the device). An authentication mode lets administrators set apps to require secure logons. User credentials are validated against the Mobile Server while online, and against locally cached and encrypted credentials while offline. Administrators can remotely revoke access requests from specific devices.

The architecture depicted below is from RoamBI but is similar to pretty much every vendor.

Mobile BI Vendor and Technology Landscape

The convergence of information and analytics with mobile technology is creating an entire new opportunity landscape. There are a lot of players jockeying for position of mobile BI platform providers.

Enterprise adoption of iPad tablets has caught many established vendors by surprise.  Tablets and retina display smartphones are enabling a new class of “always-on” mobile enterprise applications that seamlessly blend real-time wireless access to corporate data with the ability to manipulate complex information.

 Large and Leading Players

 Small and Emerging Players

  • Microsoft
  • MicroStrategy Mobile
  • IBM Cognos
  • SAP BusinssObjects
  • Oracle
  • SAS
  • Actuate
  • Qliktech
  • Tibco Spotfire
  • Panorama Software
  • Information Builders
  • Roambi
  • SmartGlance
  • TARGIT iTop
  • Transpara
  • Yellowfin
  • Webalo
  • Visual KPI
  • Baseplan Software
  • BI Flash
  • Context!
  • key2value
  • PushBI
  • ReportPad

Potential Target Platforms  ->

  • IPhone IOS
  • IPad IOS
  • Windows Mobile
  • Android
  • Blackberry
  • Symbian
  • HTML 5 Browser Based (Device agnostic)

Leading Vendors and Descriptions

MeLLmo Roambi

MeLLmo’s RoamBI  has become a prominent player in the mobile BI market, with its focus on iPhone and iPad devices. RoamBI  provides snappier performance or heightened security of a native app, and  leverages integration services with many enterprise services and even Google Docs at very reasonable prices that even small businesses can afford. The platform integrates with a number of BI systems and data sources, including SAP BusinessObjects, IBM Cognos, Oracle Hyperion, Microsoft, and This approach, along with a strong visualization offering, makes RoamBI  a perfect solution for companies that want to leverage their investments in existing enterprise platforms. The challenge for RoamBI  will be its ability to grow its market share as traditional players expand footprints and strengthen their mobile BI offerings.

Checkout ->    for Pricing and Features.

MicroStrategy Mobile

MicroStrategy Mobile is becoming a formidable competitor to RoamBI, with a number of early success stories and a large deployment in the mobile BI space. MicroStrategy was an early pioneer in the use of interactive dashboards. It initially focused on BlackBerry and now has a strong offering in the iPhone and iPad user base with the 9.2.1 release.   MicroStrategy Mobile architecture is shown below.  The biggest hurdle for customers looking at MicroStrategy is the necessary commitment to its BI platform and the steep initial learning curve. However , the overall cost and complexity of its full enterprise BI solution is another hurdle that companies may need to overcome.

SAP BusinessObjects

As the largest player in the BI market, SAP BusinessObjects powered by Sybase will ensure that its mobile offering gains good market share. The challenge for SAP will be in its ability to prove to the market that it can become a leader in its mobile BI offering—especially for organizations that have already adopted BusinessObjects. However, with solutions such as QlikView and Roambi that can penetrating the enterprise, SAP will need to show that the company can bring together disparate platforms into a single unified BI solution.

QlikTech QlikView

QlikView from QlikTech is a leader for an end-user-driven approach to BI. The vendor’s self-contained BI platform, along with its commitment to mobile BI, positions it as a strong contender for enterprises looking to enable mobile BI. In most deployments, QlikView is used as a standalone BI platform or a complement to existing data warehouse or BI solutions. The focus on mobile BI and a growing portfolio of larger enterprise deployments will enable QlikView to grow marketshare.


Microsoft has yet to deliver a strong offering for mobile BI. Currently, Microsoft’s positioning is to use custom-developed applications to support mobile BI. With the growth in mobile usage and the rapid adoption of tablet devices in business, it’s just a matter of time before the company creates a presence for itself in this space. If Microsoft takes too long to make that happen, anticipate potential acquisitions or other aggressive strategies as the company plays catch-up.

IBM Cognos Mobile

Cognos has had limited success in the mobile BI space. The Cognos Mobile platform allows organizations using Cognos as their BI platform to extend those capabilities to multiple mobile devices, including BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, iOS, and Symbian operating systems. Surprisingly, the platform is lagging in capabilities and the rich user interface required by today’s consumerized mobile BI solutions.

All the large vendors SAS, IBM (Cognos + SPSS), SAP, and others have sophisticated data analytics to feed visualizations (shown below). What they lack is the front-end sizzle, ease-of-use and simplicity.  This where the new entrants are taking market-share and establishing a foothold.

Going forward

“Progress is not created by contented people. ”     Frank Tyger

So, what’s next? Mobile intelligence has evolved from basic BI reports and dashboards on a mobile device to proactive apps that change the way people work.

The other trend driving Mobile BI is consumerization. The Web sets expectations for functionality, user interface and quality that corporate IT must meet with internal systems. The bar has gone way up – users won’t tolerate old-school ERP-style interfaces at work when they’re used to iPads.

Mobile BI is poised to revolutionize the way organizations deliver, consume, and act on information. The convergence of information and analytics with mobile technology is empowering highly personalized channels of intelligence.

However, the ultimate test of the mobile BI revolution is better decisions and improved productivity.

Do you have a Mobile BI strategy?

Other Sources:

  1. Morgan Stanley Blue Paper – Tablet Demand and Disruption –  
  2. See Wikipedia for a Mobile BI technology discussion:
  3. MicroStrategy BI for iPad: Customized Workflows  Video–
  4. Roambi Innovates Mobile Industry with Simpler Information and Analytics Ventana Research (By Mark Smith)  –  05/21/2011
  5. MeLLmo Roambi — RoamBI
  6. Checkout ->    for Pricing and Features.
  7. 10 Mobile Trends – Kleiner Perkins is investing in…. presentation by Mary Meeker and Matt Murphy at Google’s thinkmobile conference for its biggest 200 advertisers. The complete slideshow is  at
  8. Technology TREND –  Mobile BI is being made possible by the ease with which data can be shared.  The emergence of easy-to-consume data services (e.g., RESTful [from REST, or Representational State Transfer], as opposed to SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol], and the adoption of [the OAuth protocol]) has made it a lot easier to move data around from servers to mobile devices.
  9. Corporate IT tends to underestimate the viral penetration of iPads in their environment.   An  IDC-Unisys survey of 560 IT managers and 2,660 employees and executives at large companies showed that IT underestimates significantly the number of employees using laptops, mobiles devices and tablets, and that IT is unable to support those consumer devices.
14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 18 2011

    Ravi- thank you for the interesting insights. As a company focussed on mobile solutions and services, we have seen several small companies wanted to leverage Mobile BI capabilities. And very rightly, they all want to start small- get a few metrics out to C level execs at pre determined frequencies. And, hear this, we are talking about small and medium sized companies wanting an economical options- some prefer native and some prefer browser based ‘app like’ functionality…either way they get the numbers they want anytime anywhere.

    thanks so much again for the good write up. We also realized there’s a whole bunch of Golaiaths in this space. We have our sleeves rolled up anyway.


    • Jul 18 2011

      Arrgh, my apologies. Several typos in my earlier post. My apologies. here is the corrected one.

      Ravi- thank you for the interesting insights. As a company focused on mobile solutions and services, we have seen several small companies wanting to leverage Mobile BI capabilities. And very rightly, they all want to start small- get a few metrics out to C level execs at pre determined frequencies. And, hear this, we are talking about SME companies insisting on economical options- some prefer native and some prefer browser based ‘app like’ functionality…either way they get the metrics/numbers they want anytime anywhere.

      thanks so much again for the good write up. We also realized there’s a whole bunch of Goliaths in this space. We have our sleeves rolled up anyway.


  2. John E. Elliott
    Jul 18 2011

    Thanks for the interesting article. I agree with what the previous poster said in his comments.

    A former student of yours at UT Austin,

    John E.


  3. Jul 19 2011

    Ravi, your insights are right on, data is coming at us in multiple ways, some generated some created and repurposed and some as an atrifact of business processes; all of which make our lives very interesting. I agree, gone are the days of shrink to fit, especially with server side compute powers, larger footprint devices that can do more.

    I see that more and more companies will adopt this as a way of life, ie running their business ore efficiently; consumers too will have a part to play.

    Thanks for the pointers about trend setters, it will definitely help solidy our road map.



  4. Fred Penna
    Jul 19 2011

    Great read, Ravi.

    Mobility has shifted the way that companies view and handle information – going beyond the portability and availability of information. BI has added insights and in some cases predictability.
    Mobility and BI together are creating a totally new view and transparency into the deep ocean of Big Data and even deeper waters of Social data that will form the new decision making logic for business in the years ahead.
    Thanks for lighting the way.


  5. Jul 26 2011

    Very cool, some great arguments! I appreciate you making these thoughts available, the rest of the site is also high quality. Have a good.


  6. Jul 26 2011

    Hi! Very good tip on this blog!


  7. Jul 27 2011

    Thank you for this great stuff and wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff your upcoming blog posts…


  8. Feb 28 2012

    I attended a webinar by MicroStrategy today with a presentation of using MicroStrategy Mobile at Whole Foods. Here are some lessons learned as shared by Whole Foods:
    – Involve users early (they know what they need, don’t guess for them)
    – Leverage competitiveness (internal friendly competition around the BI data)
    – Focus on architecture early (once architecture is good, next component can be built fast)
    – Stay true to your corporate culture (here balance needs of all stakeholders)
    – Goal is to have something that your team members want to use (don’t focus on being cool, but practical)

    While a bit light on specifics, one take-away was that initially the technologists wanted to build for the iPad. But the Store Team Leaders didn’t want to have to carry around yet another device in the store. So they pushed for a solution on their iPhones instead.

    Quick prototyping and iteration based on feedback from early adopter users was critical to get acceptance throughout stores nationwide. -> Lean or Better BI


  9. hdereli
    Mar 6 2014

    Thanks Ravi. Definitely helpful read. Mobile business is evolving day by day and getting things done with mobile devices is becoming much more important. By the way, tools that are especially focused on mobile business needs like Roambi and CollabMobile are growing. Native mobile applications will provide much more easy-to-use and comprehensive dashboards for business owners.



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