Nearly half of the world population currently uses mobile devices. That number will grow to 65% by 2014*. But, even with the proliferation of mobile devices, the majority of enterprises are not taking full advantage of the mobile Internet.

The most widely used mobile business applications, such as salesforce and field service management, only show 15% adoption rates, while other use cases remain in the single digit range.

And while these adoption rates may seem surprisingly low, mobile BI adoption today shows even lower success rates.

In the past two years at Forrester, we've received fewer than 50 mobile BI-related inquiries, which amounts to 3% of all other BI and BI-related inquiries combined.

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What's the reason behind this dismal adoption rate? There are three main reasons to take into account:

 - Smartphones still lack the form factor appropriate for BI. Analytical BI applications require a certain amount of screen real estate to display, interact, and analyze all relevant information on a single display.
 - Tiny mobile keyboards and pointing devices limit high levels of complex data interactivity. The second reason stems from making a business case for mobile BI. This remains tough as tangible benefits and clear ROI are often hard to justify.  
 - Mobile device security is the third inhibitor to adoption. IT organizations are still struggling to create a mobile security strategy that ensures an adequate level of protection from loss and unauthorized access on the enterprise standard devices — a strategy that must also include consumer grade devices, like the iPhone.

There is good news on the horizon. Larger form factors, such as iPads and other tablets, present an entirely different opportunity for mobile BI. These larger form factor devices offer screen sizes and touchscreen interfaces that are perfect for most typical BI applications and data interactivity.

Recent Forrester data shows that 27% and 32% (depending on enterprise size) of respondents have already implemented or will implement business applications on tablet devices.

And, add the 41% to 45% who are interested, but have no specific plans, and suddenly there's a much broader current and potential audience.

We're predicting that this future generation of mobile devices will eclipse the use of traditional laptops for mobile BI applications within three to five years — delivering on the promise of information access at any time, in any location, on any device.

With an accelerated rate of interest in mobile BI applications, our research at Forrester has uncovered several use cases that support the need for these tools on mobile devices. For example, Mobile BI applications can:

 - Improve customer and partner engagement:
In B2C industries, financial services institutions use mobile BI to add analytical capabilities to their mobile banking and investment management portals. This means customers can engage more by understanding patterns and trends in their accounts and investments, and portfolio mix. In a B2B setting, a manufacturer can provide mobile applications to its partners, rather than sending paper reports with inventory and orders, so that both can enter and look up orders, as well as perform multidimensional analysis.

 - Deliver BI in the right place, at the right time:
With mobile BI, decision-makers don't have to be in the office to delve into BI data — decisions can now happen when and where a decision is required, not constrained to a computer's location. MicroStrategy and other BI vendors call these places decision sweet spots — they may include a customer office, an aisle in a store, a line in a factory, or a business lunch at a restaurant.
 - Introduce BI for workers without access to traditional BI applications:
Although sometimes cumbersome, most salespeople and executives usually take a laptop to a customer office for quick access to information. But laptops aren't practical many other types of workers. Tablets, such as the newer 7-inch options, are an entirely different matter. A tablet can easily fit in a larger pocket and help with analyzing real time data for on-the-go workers.
 - Improve BI efficiency via query relevance:
Since most mobile devices are aware of their location and orientation, developers can program a device to automatically add these parameters to a query when enabling geospatial analytics, rather than keying them in. Additionally, many phone and tablet cameras can support scanning product bar codes, and can use them to kick off product, store, inventory, or price-related queries and analysis.
 - Position the cool factor of mobile devices:
Don't discount the current cool factor of mobile devices — presenting an aura of glamour and coolness is business critical for many sales and marketing professionals. Slick and fashionable mobile devices may represent a turning point to convince these tech-averse segments of business professional to start embracing mobile BI.

Once the appropriate use cases have been established for an organization, it will be important to recognize that mobile BI options vary by vendor and platform.

There are a variety of differentiating features that can help in the decision to choose a BI vendor.

For example, the product may need to support multiple visual query methods, GPS signals for geolocation and geospatial analytics or provide animated displays and personalization.

In this new mobile environment, enterprises that do not support at least some mobile access to business processes, business applications, and information wherever their knowledge workers are located are at risk of falling behind competitors in the market.

Since enterprise grade mobile BI technology is finally readily available, fewer roadblocks will prevent businesses from embracing mobile BI applications.

Enterprises should proceed with caution, making sure to build a strong business case with tangible ROI, without locking the organization too deeply into a specific mobile technology or platform.

Boris Evelson is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research

* Source: Forrester Research World Mobile Adoption Forecast, 2010 To 2014.