Spending some extra time with Forbes this week, I saw the article from Andreas Bitterer and Bhavish Sood of Gartner talking mobile BI – “Mobile Business Intelligence puts Data on the road.”  In short their conclusion is that mobile BI has just started to arrive, but we are still in the early days.

“…organizations are still struggling with rather mundane BI issues and are not ready to invest in yet another idea, however cool it may appear. Mobile BI is great demoware, particularly on the iPad, but only a few implementations are already under way.”

Back the Future, starring Michael J. Fox

Seems like déjà vu …and widely understates the reality of the seismic change happening across the enterprise in terms of BI and analytics.

I was at Business Objects in the early 2000’s and remember both the launch of the mobile BI products, and the decision process to kill it.  The Blackberry fundamentally changed the expectations of connectivity in a work environment and started the smart phone trend with aggressive business adoption.   Mobile BI seemed like a no brainer.

But just because you could do email from anywhere did not mean there was much business or personal productivity value in trying to display a BI report in a Blackberry browser.   And in spite of our best efforts to market otherwise, even early adopters didn’t get much value and nobody did ad-hoc anything in real life.  As a result, sales suffered, mobile was a throw in for most deals, and eventually the product got killed.  This is always the result when you are too early to market with a less than good product.

While Bitterer and Sood argue that the world is better for good old BI (reports on top of transaction data), especially when adding location data and access from any device, they also raise concerns with safety, security, privacy, and ethics.   Sounds just like 2003 all over again, and demonstrates a failure of imagination.  It also significantly understates the reality: the world has moved to the cloud and everyone is mobile.

Anyone who needs a primer on the growth and trend around cloud should check the wealth of content on Salesforce.com and their YouTube channel.

The single best public non-vendor research on the reality of mobile came from Mary Meeker’s Top Mobile Trends analysis and presentation at the Google Thinkmobile conference in February 2011.

As for the challenges:

Safety – Concerns on tracking devices and people.   In truth this doesn’t ring true because I can still recite the story from the Business Objects 6 launch with Penske Logistics connecting mobile data from trucks with BI in terminals to improve logistics performance - quite literally putting data on the road.

This also seems a little strange in the world of global connectedness.  There is a reason your smart phone can give you directions from your current location and show you traffic.

Security – Loss of device and classified information.  If your analytics solution is cloud based, there is no data located on a mobile device or software download to be compromised.  Managing user ID, policy and security using a solution like Okta makes it even more secure.  This is table stakes for enterprise IT strategy.

Privacy – Surveillance of mobile workers beyond business hours.   In a cloud and mobile world, everyone is "on" and business hours can and do extend.   More importantly, nobody should be confused that your employer can and will monitor your email.  In a mobile world, things are no different.

Ethics – data collection about non-work topics.  As a company issued laptop is for company business, the same is true of corporate mobile devices or business data access from personal mobile devices.   See also privacy above.

Gartner's assessment reflects the current state of the BI marketplace and the legacy vendor approaches to “mobile BI”.  In spite of marketing from the old guard, most legacy BI is great demoware with limited utility and no ubiquity.  No surprise that customers are disappointed.

The good news here is that there is a wealth of innovation coming into the market from cloud vendors for BI and analytics, but with a bias toward mobility and better user experience.  And the market has already spoken in terms of device adoption.

Expect enterprise customers to be increasingly more demanding in expecting more robust solutions that work seamlessly on their iPads.  The race is on - and the winners will be the companies with better experiences and innovative solutions, not more of the same.