Imagine if your sales force could verify, in real time, a customer’s order status while walking into a sales meeting. Or what if flight control managers, gate agents and ticketing agents all had up-to-date passenger and flight data on hand? What if your CFO en route to a meeting in Asia could be notified of the new numbers proposed for a pending acquisition as soon as the doors of the plane opened?
Our “Holy Grail” is a way to get the right information to the right people, in a manner that improves their ability to support their customers, drive sales and increase company profitability. The first step in this quest is to identify the right information. In the 15 years that I have focused on business intelligence, BI has evolved from an operational “back-office” data analysis effort supporting daily business activity to competitive necessity.
Companies across industries are working to gain competitive advantage through analytics and BI, leveraging the goldmine of information available because of their investments in CRM and other enterprise systems. As you address one challenge in the quest with operational BI—acquiring the right information—you must look to the next step. How do you deliver relevant, actionable information in a way that will allow people to take full advantage of it?
Information where you work
Where do our sales reps, our service teams and ever far-reaching executives really work? The more customer-centric the organization, the more likely it is that these workers are broadly dispersed and on the move, meeting face to face with clients, suppliers, partners and even competitors. These mobile workers want to take their information with them.
Until recently wireless, mobile business applications have focused on two categories: propriety solutions and communications.
A good example of a proprietary solution is FedEx’s custom wireless tracking and delivery information services, which allowed the delivery leader to gain tremendous advantage over its competition. Unfortunately, as I learned in my former role as a chief technology officer, when I evaluated mobile solutions supporting a wide range of functions, proprietary solutions are often too expensive for the average enterprise.
The alternative is open wireless services. Anybody who has seen an executive in an airport tapping away furiously at a BlackBerry knows why it’s sometimes called a “CrackBerry.” First-phase open wireless focused on basic communications, such as email. From banking to sales and consulting, companies have invested in wireless, secure email to keep their mobile workforce in communication with each other. The constant availability of information and critical business updates is addictive.
Sales of mobile devices exceed $100 million per year, and the projected growth of the sales of “SmartPhones”—devices capable of data services and more complex business applications—is estimated at a compound annual rate of 44 percent over the next five years, according to Network World Wireless (The Enterprise Newsletter, Dec. 20, 2004, http://www.nwfusion.com/newsletters/wireless/2004/1220wireless1.html?fsrc=rss-wireless). Now that’s a lot of communicating.
Convergence of BI and mobility
While operational business intelligence and wireless mobile services have been on convergent paths for some time, several recent enhancements to technologies and the market adoption of analytical CRM strategies have made mobile BI a feasible reality. Early successes in proprietary solutions are fueling the market for more open mobile applications development, making wireless delivery services more available and more cost effective. When you combine that with the recent emphasis on analytical CRM, it is only natural that businesses begin to explore how to better leverage BI beyond the office desktop and provide enhanced support to their mobile workforces.
The final factor needed to mobilize BI is the availability of wireless network coverage and bandwidth. When enhancements to network availability and data services are in place, mobile delivery of operational BI is not only feasible but also practical.
Making business intelligence mobile does not come without its challenges. You must have many elements in place to ensure the successful implementation of BI, including:
- A strategic business focus
- Cultural alignment
- Data integration and quality
- Mobile technology complexities
Initiatives to mobilize BI should be sponsored by your business teams, who should first develop a strategy to best leverage information to drive competitive advantage. The benefit of actionable information far outweighs the complexities of implementation.
Imagine your competition. Will its sales representatives have more recent, relevant customer information at their finger tips on their next call? Whose executives will have the best corporate performance information during merger discussions? How often do you face a situation where you say, “If I had known that information, I would have made a different decision?”
With mutual investments in CRM, your playing ground is equal. The next level of competition depends on the player who best uses customer information; information to better sell, service and grow its business. For a mobile workforce, the decision to invest in mobilizing critical business information and BI is a matter of when, not if. The Grail is within reach, has your quest has begun?