Since the successful launch of the Apple iPad a year ago, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of companies seeking to deploy business intelligence on mobile devices. Certainly, the marriage between the iPad and BI is a strong one: the iPad (or tablets in general) is designed for consuming information and BI is designed to deliver it.
But there are all kinds of thorny issues involved in deploying BI--or any corporate application for that matter--on a mobile platform. The most widely discussed are security, selecting a mobile platform, designing for the mobile form factor, identifying appropriate mobile use cases, and selecting an application architecture (i.e. browser-based versus device-specific). These all represent significant challenges. But one issued that hasn't been discussed much yet is whether an organization should deploy corporate mobile applications on personal or company-issued devices.
Personal or Corporate?
This is a tricky issue. Since many employees already have an iPad or other mobile device, it would be difficult to ask them to carry a second one just for business. Since these are consumer gadgets, it's inevitable that organizations are going to have to accommodate the mobile devices that employees already own. But how do you secure and support personal devices that contain a mix of corporate and personal applications and run on different platforms and versions?
The IT department is used to purchasing, configuring, securing, and maintaining computers for employees. Mobile technology undermines this process and threatens IT administrators, whose job is to maintain a stable, secure, error-free compute environment. How can they do that when they don't own or control the devices?
It's clear that the IT department is going to have to adapt. They'll need to purchase corporate devices to support development and testing and give devices to employees who don't own them already. But they'll also need install corporate applications on devices which employees already own. But how are they going to do that? Send them to iTunes or another app store? (Do you really want a corporate application on a consumer shopping site where people can download the application and uncompile it?) Require them to bring the device to an IT administrator who will physically install the mobile application and requisite security software and test to ensure everything works? Or have users install the software over the wire from a corporate mobile application server?
Lost or Stolen
But these are small hurdles. The biggest issue is non-technical. What happens when a user loses a personal device with a corporate application installed on it?
If your mobile application is browser based, you only have to worry about data cached on the device, which is there to optimize performance. Ideally, your security software automatically deletes the cache every hour or so, which minimizes (but doesn't eliminate) the risk. If you've deployed a native mobile application in which data resides on the device, you'll not only need to clear the cache, but wipe the hard drive as well, which your security software can perform remotely. (Of course, this only works if the device is turned on and connected to the network. Sophisticated thieves will hijack the data without connecting to a network.) In all likelihood, you'll need to apply all these strategies to secure sensitive corporate information.
Whoops! But there is a potentially bigger issue. What if you wipe a personal device that the business user later finds or recovers? If the device contained valuable personal data (e.g., thousands of dollars worth of music or personal photos) who is liable? Does the company have to reimburse the employee for the lost data? One company I spoke with had mobile users sign legal documents absolving the company of responsibility for lost data, among other things.
There are a lot of things to consider when implementing mobile BI. None are insurmountable. But it will take time to work through all issues. And as always, it's the soft stuff--the political, social, legal, and organizational issues--are often the most challenging of all.
Posted April 7, 2011 3:18 PM
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