Is Mobile BI the Path to Make "Dumb Users" Work Smarter?

In recent years, I have had countless conversations with IT stakeholders, business users (ranging from executives, to analysts, and front-line employees), and other BI vendors. In a recent private conversation with a potential customer’s IT stakeholders, they actually classified the lowest group that they had to cater to as “dumb users.” This was not a term to generalize this workforce as incompetent. It was a tongue and cheek statement to classify a percentage of workers who either did not know what they needed from BI tools, or were resistant to learn new technology that ultimately would help them work smarter. This is a scenario that I see on a regular basis where IT inherits or drives an SAP BusinessObjects purchase, and in turn is  tasked with pushing useful tools to various lines of business.

Their solution to evangelize success 

Their approach was simple… Lock down the which technologies would be used from the BI stack (WebI and Xcelsius) and solve problems considered low hanging fruit and then expand from there. The results of spoon feeding small chunks of BI functionality to users helped grow adoption of BI at IT’s pace, not the business. Dashboards were sold to this customer as a magic bullet to help expand the adoption of BI, the same way mobility is today; hence my visit as an adviser and vendor.

Enter the Business Consumer

The business consumer has taken on a new meaning, now that IT is rapidly adopting and supporting consumer hardware and software behind the firewall. Smartphones and cloud/web applications have accelerated the booming growth of this IT “consumerization”. With that said, the expectations for what enterprise software should look like, how it should work, and to what levels it should perform are higher than ever. Front-line employees who never used SAP BusinessObjects are not potential target users who can benefit from information while interfacing with customers.

The consensus across enterprise software is that business users need intuitive and easy to use experiences for accessing information. Sound familiar? Every BI tool in the marketplace claims that their tools provide this ground breaking simplicity for business consumers. The carrot for IT to purchase these software solutions is higher adoption and ease of development.

If the collective industry is building such great user experiences that are so easy to install, deploy, and consume why are BI projects still failing?

There are a ton of articles over the web indicating why BI projects fail. In my experience, it is the miss-application of technology due to poor communication, setting of expectations, and execution. The only program I know that explains how to solve the human and process related challenges is BIDF BI Dashboard Formula.

Rather than “right tool for the job”, what about the “right app for the user”?

At Centigon Solutions, we continuously hear this “right tool for the job” mantra used by many vendors including SAP. When we talk about business intelligence, the emphasis is still heavily placed on the tools themselves as opposed to who the tools are for and what those users are supposed to do with the tools. We now have “App” baked into our brains as a functional piece of technology for completing a specific task.

A great example of how my team at Centigon Solutions applies this “right App for the user” approach is through our inception of GMaps Mobile. I argued with this customer and others that the idea of a report or analytic that is “read-only” kills adoption. Why? When IT does not allow a user to take a report or dashboard as a starting point and then customize or combine it with other data sources, it creates a barrier to adoption. With GMaps Mobile, even the most restricted user can still combine, re-mix, and “mash-up” pre-built layers of information from the iPad. (see it in action).

Changing technologies, roles, and mindsets

There is a major shift in enterprise software, and the reality is that the communication barrier that once existed between IT and other lines of business will have to decrease significantly. Enterprise organizations want to see the return on investment that we keep hearing from analyst firms ($10.66 for every dollar spent is the last number I saw). For this to happen, IT will remain the gatekeepers for security, data, and network resources, but no longer remain governors for BI adoption.

“Organizations making sense of what they learn…as fast as they learn it.”

-Jeff Jonas, IBM

As business consumer’s sophistication and thirst for instant knowledge increases, IT will have to empower some users with data and tools to transform this data into useful information. Other users, specifically the “dumb users” we referenced will need Apps that create a low barrier of entry for using and succeeding with business intelligence. I certainly look forward to meeting back with this customer a year from now after their mobile roll out to see if things have changed.


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