The ‘mobile wave’ refers to the on-going re-ordering of technology and modern life through the widespread use of tablet PCs like the iPad, smartphones and the increasingly sophisticated software that runs on them. But how is this impacting business and executives’ ability to use mobile devices to do their job more effectively?

Mobile business intelligence (BI) is an immensely powerful tool for an organisation to have at its disposal. Instantly accessible, real-time data that a user can interact with and take action on is empowering and is revolutionising how and when business decisions are made.

But although in the Gartner ‘Predicts 2011’ body of research, the industry analysts predicted that by 2013, 33 per cent of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices, until recently enterprise take-up of mobile BI has been fairly limited. The nature of mobile devices meant that it was a watered-down version of traditional enterprise BI. It would involve taking a report, dashboard or graph designed for a PC screen and shrinking it to fit onto a mobile handset.

Game changing technologies

This is gradually starting to change though, helped in no small part by the rise of smart devices – truly game-changing technology that allow users within a business to access data which is presented in a way that is both digestible and actionable. Smart phones are a key mobile BI tool, with bigger screens and touchscreen interaction a common feature. But it is tablet PCs that have been the real game changer for mobile BI, particularly the iPad.

The most recent version of the iPad released earlier this year makes mobile BI data incredibly easy to read, engage and interact with. Using an iPad, especially with bespoke apps based entirely on an organisation’s own business data and processes, has enormous value to an organisation. It provides decision-makers with real-time insight and analysis and the ability to initiate actions and transactions from their device, a major breakthrough in mobile BI.

Much of the buzz around apps has focused on those in the consumer space, but the business world is also experiencing its own app revolution. Mobile apps can include action-taking features, such as entering data, approving requests, adjusting forecasts, and write-back to data sources. All this can be done instantly within the app and without ever needing to return to a desk.

Bespoke apps mean better mobile BI

Such action taking functionality is a major advance and a concept that Starbucks is already testing. Herbalife has already built and deployed a sales and marketing analysis app for the iPad using a mobile platform.

The app, known as Herbalife Mobile Analytics, enables Herbalife to analyse related sales trends and track performance based on various criteria, such as by product or location, to best capitalise on new opportunities. It helps evaluate sales performance across multiple channels (phone, internet, walk-in, etc.) and gauge the success of marketing campaigns across the business. Executives and sales managers are able to track global sales order trends for more than one million orders, and compare sales performance relative to targets by region, country, or warehouse.

As an iPad app it means that executives are able to access data directly on a daily or monthly basis, anywhere, anytime. Another customer, financial services company BBVA has launched around 30 mobile apps using a software development kit (SDK), all aimed at providing mobile services to its banking customers.

Mobile – the future of BI

The mobile wave has undoubtedly impacted the BI market as users look for faster, easier and more effective ways of accessing, interacting with and most importantly, actioning BI data. This is as true for senior management who are attached to their iPad as it is for sales execs and field workers who need immediate access to business information to go about their daily operations.

In the business world apps are fast becoming indispensable tools used on a daily basis to drive their businesses forward. Used in conjunction with smartphones and tablets they create a truly powerful mobile BI proposition. How long before most BI functionality is consumed on a mobile device?