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Business Intelligence Goes Mobile

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Monday, July 13, 2009

The need and demand for mobile business intelligence (BI) increases with each passing month, as executive management has become less tethered to their desks and office-based PCs. The traditional workspace is now obsolete; with remote access so ubiquitous, the whole world is an office. Such an agile and fluid workforce requires access to corporate knowledge stores which must provide unfettered access, regardless of geographic location, time of day, and content delivery platform.

Mobile BI is one of the best ways for a corporation to realize its business agility goals. After all, BI is not just a collection of boring KPIs about corporate performance, it is about business agility and the corresponding ability to make dynamic and educated decisions based on real-time data. There are four primary justifications for having remotely enabled BI:

  1. Speed up executive decision making
  2. Improve and augment customer service
  3. Increase operational productivity and streamline business processes
  4. Mitigate risks and govern business processes and assets

Until recently, adoption of mobile BI technologies was sporadic: Remote devices had limited bandwidth and a plethora of technical incompatibilities. However, the cost of ownership and time to market for on-the-go BI has been reduced by orders of magnitude. Old barriers of entry to mobile BI have been eliminated thanks to the standardization and seamless integration of what were once disparate protocols, languages and hardware/infrastructure constraints.

Specific advances that revolve around “in-memory” computing have resulted in tremendous performance boosts. Although in-memory technology creates a limitation on the number of megabytes that a mobile device can store, it can support a much higher compression rate than relational technologies, thus creating exciting possibilities for mobile BI. Effective data compression results in a smaller footprint for both online and offline viewing and usage of data. In addition, the performance of wireless networks has improved as these networks have expanded into the most remote corners of the earth.

As standardization has emerged and performance gaps have stabilized, the ease of use of mobile BI applications has increased in parallel, reducing learning curves for executive audiences of mobile BI devices. For power-users, reports have become customizable on all types mobile devices. Now BI data can be consumed on any wireless-enabled device, including cell phones, Blackberry’s, iPhones, various flavors of PDAs and PCs - anywhere in the world.

MDX And Jabber

The MultiDimensional eXpressions (MDX) language has helped empower mobile BI, due to its wide industry acceptance and cohesive standards; it has been embraced by a growing majority of OLAP and BI vendors and industry experts. MDX has quickly emerged as the de-facto universal language of business intelligence thanks to its powerful and intuitive set of data commands and expressions for structuring hierarchically oriented data. If one understands the basic concepts of pivot-tables, they can quickly be on their way to mastering MDX and traversing dimensional knowledge with confidence.

In essence, MDX is a syntax used to query and manipulate data that resides in OLAP cubes, with SQL-like expressions such as SELECT, FROM, WHERE; these are called MDX “statements.” In tandem with MDX statements, there exist various expressions used to directly define the properties of a data cube (dimension members, measures, leading/lagging indicators and other performance indicators) and associated calculations. Keep in mind that similarities between MDX and SQL are mostly superficial: SQL is extremely weak on traversing hierarchies of data, while MDX was designed exclusively for that purpose. MDX expressions were also created with dimensional hierarchies in mind (with classifications of “members” and “children”) and it takes into account not only a cube’s data, but its metadata as well.

It should be noted that while there are a number of third-party tools on the market that help with the creation of MDX queries and the browsing of cube data, they are not always optimized for best performance. In addition to MDX, the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (also known as Jabber, or XMPP) will increasingly become important to mobile business intelligence and dynamic instant messaging due to its security, stability and extensibility. All network administrators that hope to successfully implement mobile BI applications should have a depth of familiarity with Jabber.

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