Welcome to the age of Contextual Intelligence

Daniel Joseph
By Daniel Joseph under Insights 23 October 2013

At The App Business we’re hugely excited about the opportunity to innovate and create new value with mobile Business Intelligence. Today, we think we’re just scratching the surface of what will be possible over the next 6, 12 and 18 months.

Think about it, the mobile devices that we are buying today are more powerful in a range of ways than the two-year-old desktops cluttering our offices. Yet, still, very few people are using mobile devices as core parts of their day-to-day work flow. This represents an enormous source of opportunity for businesses to steal a march on their competition by integrating mobile BI tools smarter, faster and more effectively. At The App Business, we entered the mobile Business Intelligence space about 18 months ago with Unilever and our revolutionary OneView product. And this short blog series will reflect key learnings that we have gained along the way as well as some of our current thinking on the future of Business Intelligence.

Let’s start with how we, at The App Business, think about the opportunity for mobile in the Business Intelligence space

Starting with the basics, we understand that a company is only as successful as the thousands, if not millions, of decisions it makes every day. And so mobile Business Intelligence isn’t just about saving time for your highest-paid board members, or cutting some paper costs. Mobile Business Intelligence is about arming all of your most important decision makers to make the right decision at the right time. Whether they are top execs in the C-Suite upstairs, or bus conductors sitting on the front line, mobile Business Intelligence can give your key decision makers the edge.

We also understand that arming new people with mobile decision making tools can potentially create significant business change (and headache) as well as value. But we think that mobile is just the accelerant that many businesses need to force the change that is necessary not just to prosper but also survive. So we encourage companies to take a “mobile in” approach that begins with quickly prototyping, piloting and iterating from there. The question isn’t “What’s the business case for mobile BI?”, it’s “What’s the best way to invest in mobile BI?”. Iteratively building, shipping and learning is the smartest way to answer that question.

Thinking about the value that mobile brings to the BI space, let’s just be clear that it is not about simply making intelligence portable

We think that mobile technology can actually drive innovation and create new value at every point in the BI chain, and we have a simple model for highlighting and thinking about the points in the chain and the opportunity for mobile.

1. Source:

We believe that mobile can uniquely source and surface brand new data points. Hailo drivers are a great example of this: cabbies use mobile to source and share real-time business hotspots in the city they are in.

2. Delivery:

We believe that mobile can uniquely deliver intelligence to previously unconnected decision makers. Lidl shelf stackers are a great example of this: they are now using iPads to optimise shelf layout in the morning based on overnight sales intelligence.

3. Security:

We believe that mobile can secure intelligence more robustly because it can revoke rights and remotely wipe devices. Great news for government. No more worrying about ministers leaving briefcases on trains.

4. Presentation:

We believe that mobile can uniquely present intelligence more contextually, anticipating user needs based on mobile insight about them and thus enabling users to make higher quality decisions faster and ‘win’. Unilever’s and The App Business’s OneView mobile BI product is a great example of this: executives automatically see the data that relates to the meeting they are in so they can spend the meeting doing business rather than working through data.

At The App Business we’re currently innovating hardest at the ‘Security’ and ‘Presentation’ layers

Why? Well, we see enormous opportunity for mobile to radically increase your Return On Information fast if you innovate at these points of the stack. And, whilst generic solutions are good enough for many, we believe that when it comes to security and presentation generic solutions are not good enough for your high-impact audiences. The UX isn’t robust enough and the UX isn’t user-led enough. Our Unilever OneView case study will highlight exactly how we have innovated at the Security and Presentation levels and that story will form the next posts in this blog series. But for now, I want to quickly review why we are excited about innovating at the Presentation layer and how we think about the new technology landscape that we are innovating within.

We believe that we are now at the dawn of the age of Contextual Intelligence, and Contextual Business Intelligence

What do we mean by context here? Well, mobile understands your context better than any other device: mobile knows who you are, where you are, what you need, and exactly how you need it. And because of this, mobile can thus anticipate a user’s needs and present just the information they require to make the right decision fast. That’s the value that mobile can bring to BI. Or put another way, as a sort of equation: couple Business Intelligence with the power of contextual insight about the end user needs and suddenly you can present just the info they need, exactly how they need it. This sort of approach will obviously require bespoke solutions that understand bespoke business context but no one ever beat the competition by doing the same thing as them.

The other thing that gets us excited about this space is that mobile is getting smarter, fast, about one’s context

Look at that relatively primitive smartphone on standby in your pocket. Its mobile sensors already know an awful lot about your context (well, if you are lucky enough to have a 5S).

My 5S knows my:

Schedule – what I’m doing, with who, where and when (via the calendar)

True identity (via the fingerprint scanner)

Location (via GPS)

Orientation and what I’m looking at (via compass)

Proximity to people and things (via BLE, iBeacons)

State – whether still, walking, running (via motion co-processor)

With this explosion of contextual insight about an end user’s state and needs, Business Intelligence on mobile can be presented, well, a lot more intelligently. And what’s more, with the proliferation of further wearable sensor technologies, the amount of contextual insight available to automatically make BI more useful is going to grow exponentially.

A bunch of this stuff might sound far fetched but we have already started to land this vision for the team at Unilever and this blog series will tell that story

By way of heads up, the OneView app is a bespoke solution for Unilever’s most important executive decision makers. And it understands who they are, where they are, the meetings they are in, and serves up exactly the information they need in exactly the way they need it. We will cover the details next week but what I think is really exciting isn’t just how we built it. With Unilever, we were faced with a large organisation with an enormous base of data. But the good news was that they wanted something that could change the way they work fast. So we didn’t spend 12 months planning; we spent 12 weeks building a pilot and then we have iterated from there, adding value at each step of the way with fortnightly or monthly software ‘drops’.

I just want to wrap up this first post by saying that we feel that innovation at the ‘Presentation’ layer and with Contextual Intelligence is just getting started

There are so many exciting new opportunities emerging as Business Intelligence is coupled with mobile context to create hugely valuable experiences. And I’d like to leave you with a few that we are excited about.

First up, how about using contextual insight about how close one person is to another person to inform how we present Business Intelligence. We’re actually creating an internal TAB app that uses BLE to help us understand exactly which client is currently coming up in the lift and gives the company a heads up about them before the doors open (so we can get them a coffee just like they like it). This ‘person-to-person’ context is all about presenting data based on who people are near or with. Think about how you can apply that to your workforce or customer facing staff.

Secondly, how about using contextual insight about how close a person is to a specific object or thing to inform how we present Business Intelligence. Travel is an inherently mobile business and there’s enormous opportunities to apply this technology here to link mobile workers with their mode of transport. How about a bus conductor app that uses proximity sensors to understand if the conductor is on the bus or waiting on the street and automatically displays the info they need to know? This technology could also inform HQ where the under utilised conductors are. We think about this as ‘person-to-object’ context.

And thirdly, how about using contextual info about a person’s state (i.e. whether they are still, running, or walking) to inform how we present Business Intelligence? It could be a police BI app that uses the motion co-processor to understand if a policeman is in the car, walking the beat, or running and displays the information in a format to suit (i.e. in ear, when running; locked-down on screen, when on the beat).

We call this ‘personal state’ context and it is all about presenting data based on exactly what your workforce are doing.

So where to start? Well we say: start with your high impact decision makers.

Sure generic ‘off the shelf’ solutions as a catch-up technology: effective for everybody else. But if you want to steal a march on the competition, you need to:

• identify to give your high-impact decision makers, whether they are bus conductor or C-Suite,

• understand the context in which they make their business decisions,

• and quickly prototype, pilot and iterate from there.

One thing you don’t want to do is is stop and spend 6-12m creating a long-term strategy and roadmap. You wont learn enough and you will leave the door open for your competitors.

We look forward to telling the story of how we landed this vision for Unilever with the next post in this Mobile Business Intelligence series from The App Business.