How will the enterprise mobility space play out? Look to business intelligence for clues

I recently had the opportunity to meet with about 40 executives from a large international construction company. They operate in many different countries and you won’t be surprised to hear that they have a complex application environment. I’d ask someone a question like “How do you keep track of tools and supply inventories at various sites?” and invariably, the “answer” was a question - “in which country?” or “for commercial or residential?” or “for corporate to track it or the site managers?”

They made it clear that while they had a myriad of needs for mobility, there were process differences, regulations, and legacy investments across their operations that made it hard to roll out a single technology solution to any particular business problem.

They did mention that they used Business Objects as their standardized reporting and analytics environment, and all said that a key requirement was that the tool that could work across everything. Fundamentally, it’s too complicated to implement specialized reporting tools across every different system - and it is too tricky for users and expensive for IT.

That got me thinking - are there lessons that enterprise mobility experts can learn from the Business Intelligence (BI) market and the differentiators that customers truly value?

Back to the future

I spent many years of my career in the Business Intelligence market at companies like Hyperion, Pentaho, and the aforementioned Business Objects. The more I learn about Enterprise Mobility, the more I see parallels to Business Intelligence. 

From my view, there were three key elements that allowed BI to flourish, and the same dynamics apply to mobility. 

  • Value-add - Extending the value of existing investments
  • Openness - “Playing nice with others” in a heterogeneous IT environment
  • Focus - Product advantages in functionality and ease of use

Value add

BI was a way for companies to derive insights and therefore get more value from the transactional data that was captured in their applications. Enterprise mobility is similar in that it makes it possible for organizations to deliver the value of their enterprise applications to new user populations, like remote or field-based workers who live at what we like to call “the edges of the enterprise.” It builds on ERP or other applications to unlock value in a new way. In the context of BI, that meant that companies would do things like integrate multiple sources of customer data to really get an accurate view of which customers were most profitable, not just the ones who spent the most. In the world of mobility, that value-add takes many different forms, from making field technicians more effective and efficient with customers, enabling a new way of employee self-service, managing inventory more cost-effectively across a supply chain.

Openness

It’s worth pointing out that even as the BI market exploded in the 1990s, every major application vendor had some kind of reporting/dashboard/BI solution that they sold alongside their applications. Oracle had Discoverer. SAP had Business Warehouse. PeopleSoft had nVision. And yet companies like Business Objects, Cognos, Crystal Decisions, Microstrategy and others thrived in the installed-bases of those application providers. One reason why is that no medium- to large-sized company runs everything on one application stack. Even wall-to-wall SAP shops usually have multiple SAP instances as well as non-SAP applications, often the result of M&A. So reporting tools optimized for a “single-stack” environment couldn’t really solve the problem. 

Beyond that, companies didn’t want to use more reporting tools than were absolutely necessary. They didn’t want this tool for Salesforce, this tool for SAP, this tool for Oracle. They wanted tools that could integrate with all of those systems so that it would be easier to manage. 

The same is true in mobility, although some users and companies are still figuring it out. As a real-world example, consider an industrial gases company with a field sales and delivery team. The rep needs to quickly pull up a customer’s details for an on-site visit from their CRM system (Salesforce) and see if there’s available inventory for that customer’s preferred products at a nearby facility. They didn’t want to have that rep navigating through salesforce mobile, then copying and pasting into SAP mobile after navigating to the right screen. Like a good business intelligence solution, a good mobility solution should work seamlessly across those systems in one workflow, without a rep having to worry about different credentials and complex UIs.

Lastly, consider the user experience. By definition, SAP’s reporting tools would give users an experience that was totally configured for SAP. Same for Peoplesoft, Oracle, Siebel, and everything else that was out there. Why should a user who wants to analyse the business have to worry about where the data comes from, or have to learn four different tools just to report across 4 different systems? The same holds for mobility. The application provider’s mobile solution is always going to be tailored for that application platform, which is OK if most of your users only use one system, but that’s not the reality of the enterprise.

Focus

The other reason offerings like Business Objects or Cognos beat application vendor reporting tools was that they were simply better tools - more functional, and easier to use. When I was VP of Product Marketing at Business Objects in 2005, I took some comfort in the fact that then-CEO Larry Ellison of Oracle probably never woke up at 2am panicked that the company didn’t have a better BI offering and wasn’t dominating the BI market. He and Oracle had lots of other products and multi-billion-dollar market segments to worry about that always got more attention.

Where we go from here

If you accept the parallels, it’s reasonable to expect that mobility will go through the same evolution, and ultimately succeed because of value-add, openness, and focus.

The 3 major phases will be:

  • Disappointment - Companies who evaluated systems based on desktop functionality and think of mobile as a “checkbox” will be disappointed in the same way companies that treated reporting and BI as a checkbox. “It sounded cool and demoed well, but doesn’t work for our users,” will be the refrain.
  • A Search for Standards - Companies will realize that while different solutions are needed, a plethora of disjointed solutions will create its own problems for users as well as IT budgets, and they will look for a single solution for every use case under the sun.
  • Mass awakening - Companies will realize that mobility is also like BI in that different solutions are better suited to certain use cases. They will end up picking one solution that’s a good fit for most of their needs, and will use specialized solutions when needed.

The good news is that whether I’m right or wrong, we’ll get to see it play out in a very exciting market, where large companies and small companies are all competing to deliver the best solution and the best value for customers. 

Lance Walter, CMO, Capriza
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens