American Marketer


3 aspects of mobile business intelligence that retailers must get

June 13, 2013

Steve Wellen is chief operating officer of Domo


By Steve Wellen

Sometimes you are not at work or in front of a computer – though it does not always feel like it.

Whether you are at home eating dinner, on vacation for several days, or even just asleep, your business is still happening. In today’s worldwide, always-on economy, it is simply impossible to stay connected to the data, especially when it is only accessible via laptop or desktop.

That is where mobile business intelligence comes in. But as with everything, there is a hitch.

Mobile BI is an up-and-coming industry that is still in its nascent stages and struggles with some basic functionality. In retailers’ haste to get a mobile solution to help manage business from afar, we need to slow down a little to consider three areas of mobile BI for retail that will either make or break your investment.

1. Mobile device considerations
The smartphone market now has at least three viable mobile platforms for business use.

Though you may have a preferred operating system, do not commit the error of being shortsighted when choosing a mobile BI solution. If a mobile BI solution cannot cross platforms, then it is not ready to be implemented on your team.

Cross-platform usability does not just stop at whether or not it says “compatible with …” on the box.

There are also certain Web standards – HTML5, Javascript and cloud-based programming – that will make your mobile BI solution a real solution that stays current with technology.

2. Mobile BI user experience
Too obvious to list here? I wish it were. Unfortunately, the extensive list of mobile applications without a satisfactory user experience behooves me to call this one out.

Many BI systems provide a great user experience when accessed from a desktop or laptop, but that experience deteriorates on mobile devices. As a result, it becomes a significant challenge to fully leverage your retail intelligence when going mobile.

Even when some tools claim to offer a consistent experience between desktop and mobile, you will want to test it before you check this one off.

I recently met the senior vice president of a consumer goods retailer. He travels frequently between states in the Midwest, and he needs to have his stats available whenever – and wherever – he is ready for them.

In a teleconference meeting, the executive team was discussing the previous quarter’s revenue.

Numbers started flying around, some saying it was as much as $5 million higher or lower than the last guy’s number.

The SVP pulled the information up on his phone and gave the quarterly earnings down to the penny.

When they began discussing which product lines needed to be removed, he had a heat map of the entire United States with the product lines that were performing best, right there in his palm.

The executive constantly surprised and silenced the rest of the team, because he had the relevant data ready when he needed it, no matter where he was. If your mobile BI cannot do that, then it cannot do what you need it to do.

3. Connecting all the pieces
Many point-of-sale systems, manufacturing tracking apps and other tools have their own apps. And a lot of them are pretty great. But you miss the critical aspect of looking at all of it in context when your data is only available in disconnected, disjointed apps.

Vivien Bohme, CEO of Bohme Boutique, had to spend several hours each day just to keep up on critical metrics. Her store managers were disconnected from the data, so it was up to the CEO to check on daily revenue and catch anomalies as they occurred at the various retail locations.

That is when she decided to put all of her data in a central location where she and all of her store managers could access the data anytime, anywhere.

“Suddenly my store managers were acting like mini-CEOs,” Ms. Bohme said. “Productivity immediately went up. They were checking their numbers on their phones, making calls and staying connected. That is all the stuff I was doing.”

By the end of 2013, Bohme Boutique will have close to 20 retail locations, and the CEO attributes the growth directly to being able to stay connected to critical metrics.

Data works best when it works together. We are all more effective when we have it all – social media, POS, manufacturing, fulfillment, you name it – in one place and in real time. Retailers do not have time to waste.

MOBILE BI is an absolutely essential part of cross-channel retail.

With all the numbers pouring in from Web analytics and online purchases, you have to be able to connect to your stats anytime and anywhere.

When you go looking for your own mobile BI solution, keep these three points in mind, and you will get the most out of your mobile BI investment.

Steve Wellen is chief operating officer of Domo, American Fork, UT. Reach him at