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Consumer Intelligence: A Driving Force for More Pervasive BI

If I can do this while shopping, why not at work?

I have often seen consumers with mobile devices scanning an item in a store to obtain product reviews, check for discount coupons, or compare prices at competitors (including online). It is certainly not unheard of for these shoppers to leave the store and order the item from a competitor's Web site or go to another nearby store to make the purchase. These shoppers can even use their mobile device to obtain directions to the other store.

Shoppers use mobile devices to check on the vehicle history of an automobile they are considering purchasing to, for example, determine if the car was in an accident or was once a rental, yet another example of how mobile devices are providing consumers with "on-the-spot" information.

Meanwhile, back at the office, when these consumers gather in the break room, they discuss their shopping experiences and question why comparable functionality is not as readily available for their business information needs. Contributing to their frustration are tales from colleagues about how they used their mobile devices to look up, from a public Web site, information relative to a customer or competitor prior to, or even during, a business meeting or sales call.

Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are the enabling devices for what I like to call enhanced consumer intelligence. These devices are catalysts for making business intelligence more pervasive. Mobile devices allow us to obtain information while on the go and free us from being tied to our desktops. Yes, laptops provide this capability as well, but they are not nearly as portable or easy to carry. Even before the advent of smartphones, most people had a mobile phone which they carried on their belts, in their pockets, or in their purses. They simply would not leave home without them.

Some of us (early baby boomers or older) may remember when an organization's data store consisted of paper files or microfiche copies. (When people complain about slow Internet access, I am tempted to remind them that it is a lot faster than going to a library to use a microfiche reader!) When PCs were strictly desktop devices, we needed to be at the office to obtain business intelligence. I still remember when sending text messages and alerts to an employee's cell phone was considered a major breakthrough because the employee no longer had to "stop by their (data) warehouse" to query status information. This was followed by the ability to send and display reports on cell phone screens or view e-mailed reports, albeit in a format that was looked a lot better on a computer display.

We have evolved considerably since then, and our smartphones and tablets are true user access devices for both input and output. Information we obtain is formatted so that it is optimized for the particular device we are using. Mobile devices also function as real-time collaboration platforms.

Although pervasive BI was once a marketing vision (and a very pervasive buzzword) vendors used to describe whatever capabilities they currently had, it is now a real possibility. Intelligenct mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have served to bring this closer to reality. Furthermore, most BI vendors have embraced mobile technology and have taken steps to optimize their display formats for a multitude of smart (and not-so-smart) devices. It is now up to data warehouse practitioners to fully embrace it.

Users already experience consumer intelligence when they shop and don't (or won't) understand why job-related information isn't available outside of their workplace. Data warehouse developers must now consider how to satisfy this growing requirement. Furthermore, they need to be able to do so for whatever mobile devices their users already carry. Yes, there are real issues (such as security) in a "bring your own device" environment, but users will not wish to carry multiple devices. The dangers of mobile computing are recognized and solutions such as encryption, verification, access control, and remote deactivation of a "missing" device already exist and continue to evolve and improve.

When explaining data warehousing to the uninitiated, I often describe the three major aspects of data warehousing as "get it" (data integration), "store it" (database technology), and "analyze it" (business intelligence). To this last point I have now added "from when and where you need it" to my elevator speech. Mobile technology, now being widely deployed for consumer intelligence, will be a driving force for making business intelligence more pervasive.

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