Tool talk: Mobile workers report back with BI-enabled smart devices
As mobile computing technology proliferates, the demand for business intelligence (BI) capabilities is on the rise. Users want pervasive “actionable intelligence” delivered via smart phones, tablet PCs, and other sub-notebook devices to a remote, mobile workforce.<br/>
As the worldmobile worker’s tool belt.
“The question is whether you get access to information within a time frame to affect decisions and take actions that can change performance,” says David Hatch, VP and principal analyst with Boston-based Aberdeen Group . For most enterprises outside of financial services—where the value of information expires rapidly—the critical time frame is typically a single business day.
But timeliness isn’t the only challenge in making BI more pervasive and vital to mobile workers. Aberdeen says surveyed companies rated the three top selection criteria for mobile BI technology as follows:
• 44 percent said software license cost and compatibility with existing IT infrastructure was No. 1.
• 43 percent rated integration capabilities with other applications as the most critical factor.
• 33 percent rated interface ease of use and ease of building new applications as most critical.
Getting data in the right format—one that is easily navigated within the tight confines of a small smart phone screen—also is paramount to use and adoption by “road warriors” and executives. Jeetu Lakhotia says format was a top issue that his team at Locus Solutions had to contend with in working with a large pharmaceutical manufacturer seeking to leverage mobile BI technology to hone its focus on production cycle times at multiple plants.
Lakhotia is CEO of Locus Solutions, a systems integrator dedicated to the IBM Cognos BI platform.
“It was a large initiative driven by [the demand for] visibility that linked cycle-time factors across the supply chain,” Lakhotia says of the pharma manufacturer. “The biggest challenge was getting data from suppliers in the proper XML format.”
IBM Cognos 8 Go! Mobile extends the value of the IBM Cognos 8 Business Intelligence architecture by giving users access to timely, secure, and personalized information on their mobile devices and operating systems, including BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 wireless.
Another challenge was developing a common report format that enabled the company to author a single report consumable by both desktop and small mobile devices—a form factor that could greatly accelerate dissemination of BI via multiple mediums while reducing IT overhead regarding report maintenance.
“The company had been limited to looking at information long after the fact, but now wanted to see data from no later than yesterday,” he says, adding that IBM Cognos 8 Go! Mobile software enabled them to pilot the project with one supplier in early 2008, with additional plants that followed.
While Cognos 8 Go! Mobile originally only supported the BlackBerry operating system, its latest release supports multiple device operating systems.
“The goal is to have a single report that can be rendered across multiple mobile devices,” says Lakhotia. “That’s why it’s important to pay attention up front during development regarding form factors for all devices. Otherwise it becomes a nightmare from a maintenance perspective.”
While BI has been available as an emailed .pdf attachment for a number of years, true native client architecture makes it much easier to navigate on a small screen with the ability to zoom in and out, reducing the risk of getting lost in the process. Locus Solutions has conducted tracking audits to see where report access originates and has found a significant shift in usage.
“After nine or 10 months, mobile devices have a much higher usage rate than Web browsers at the executive level,” he says. This gives credence to the idea that executives are more likely to avail themselves frequently of business intelligence when the medium is always readily available, empowering the notion of “BI on a belt.”
Aberdeen has studied pervasive mobile BI and finds distinct attributes that differentiate best-in-class practices.
“More than half of those deemed best-in-class use the same report from their internal BI applications for delivery to mobile users,” Hatch says. This enables 83 percent of them to achieve “time to information” within the same day that an event occurs.
In addition, best-in-class companies achieved these results:
• A mean average customer satisfaction increase of 5.39 percent—more than 4.8 times greater than average companies;
• Improved year-over-year mean average employee productivity of 3.61 percent—20 times greater than average companies;
• Increased year-over-year employee retention by a mean average of 4.33 percent—10 times higher than average companies; and
• Increased flow of new sales opportunities into the pipeline by a mean average of 4.81 percent—three times greater than average companies.
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.