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Emerging Tech: Business Intelligence Apps Go Mobile

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO
December 22, 2010 10:11 AM ET

CIO - CIO Joe Beery of Life Technologies has found an answer to the age-old question, "What has IT done for me lately?" Earlier this year, he gave top executives and a pilot group of sales folks and finance staff one of the hottest emerging technologies to arrive on the enterprise scene: mobile business intelligence.

Now, employees eagerly tap and scroll through business data looking at daily sales pipelines, recent activity among key customers, and real-time revenue trends on their iPhones and iPads. "It definitely helps your credibility," says Beery at Life Technologies, a publicly traded biotech company based in southern California. "You want to know what we've done? Well, here it is."

Beery chose a mobile BI solution called Roambi, a native iOS app with hooks into the company's Oracle database and Cognos business intelligence system. Roambi serves up the latest product, customer or financial data via a simple yet elegant virtual card index. The app is as addictive as Facebook-one executive at Life Technologies checks Roambi at least 10 times a day-and thus employees are constantly reminded of the important role technology plays in their daily jobs.

"Before Roambi, our sales people were spending way too much time connecting with their laptops and keeping themselves up to date on what was happening with sales," says Manoj Prasad, vice president of global applications testing and corporate functions at Life Technologies. With mobile BI, "we believe we're shaving off anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes a day for a salesperson. They can focus more time on selling the product. We believe there's a huge revenue impact."

The Mobile BI Boom

With some 150 employees in a handful of business units currently using Roambi, Life Technologies stands at the front of a mobile BI boom. Early results of an ongoing Aberdeen Group survey show a very high level of interest in mobile BI. Roughly a third of respondents have a mobile BI initiative in place, while most others are looking to implement one in the next 12 months.

"Mobile BI is a little bit beyond the embryonic stage," says Aberdeen analyst Andrew Borg. "It's far enough along that there are some use cases that we can point to and concrete business value that can be measured."

A mobile BI app has the potential to unleash the power of business intelligence throughout an organization. While many companies already have business intelligence systems, employees often lack a good way of accessing these systems. Too often, access is limited to desktops in the executive suite, says Borg.

In a recent Aberdeen survey of 277 companies with business intelligence systems, employee usage of these systems doubled with mobile BI. "Mobile BI is more interactive and enables us to access information when and where decisions are made, not just when we're at our desks," Borg says.

The surprisingly rapid rise of tablets like the iPad in the enterprise should also bode well for mobile BI. A tablet's large screen provides a superior user experience to that of the smartphone and lets mobile BI users drill deeper into data. "Mobile BI is a killer app on the tablet," Borg says. "They are made for each other."

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