Mobile Business Intelligence – Best Practices from Tableau

by Trevor Strome on June 10, 2011

Mobile devices are revolutionizing healthcare

With the increasing proliferation of mobile devices (such as Apple’s iPad tablets), there is an opportunity to literally bring analytics to the bedside with the use of such devices. Providing fingertip access to healthcare providers and administrators will make information truly available when and where it is needed, whether it is in aggregate format (such as dashboards), individual patient records, or best medical evidence for use when treating patients.

“Not your father’s business intelligence”

When designing analytics tools for use on mobile devices, it is important to take into consideration the strengths (and weaknesses) of the platforms in use. In addition to the excitement in developing for a new platform, delivering information over mobile devices gives us the chance to “start over”, applying lessons learned and eliminating some of the mistakes made while implementing current (“traditional”) analytics applications.

Best practices for Mobile BI

Tableau Software recently published an article (and accompanying white paper) entitled “5 Best Practices for Mobile Business Intelligence” in their recent online newsletter. Whether you are a user of Tableau or not, there are definite lessons for everyone who is considering to deploy healthcare analytics solutions via mobile platforms. Their five best practices (with my own summary / interpretation) are:

  • Avoid dashboard proliferation. You don’t want to fall into the trap of either porting all old dashboards to the new platform, or developing all new dashboards just for mobile devices. Tableau suggests, where possible, to “author-once, distribute everywhere”. Adapt existing dashboards to be compatible with both mobile and traditional platforms.
  • Write to a smaller form factor. Obviously, tablets offer a smaller viewable space than desktop monitors, so cramming in too much information will end up making the dashboards unusable. Tableau’s suggestions include limiting mobile dashboards to 2-4 main views, eliminating unnecessary filters and labels, and ensure that titles and explanations are big enough to be read.
  • Consider an audience on the go. The people who will be accessing mobile analytics “on-the-go” are unlikely to have time (or inclination) to dive into complicated analyses. Mobile analytics users will most likely be looking for high-level information and summaries are some specific data to help make a decision.
  • Account for new mobile scenarios. In my opinion, this is the best practice most important for healthcare analytics. When designing analytics for mobile users, you should consider who will be accessing the information, and how they’ll be using it. A manager, healthcare provider, or quality facilitator using a mobile device on the front-lines is likely looking for different information (or at least will be needing to find it faster) than administrators and executives behind their desks.  Tableau suggests  interviewing end-users of mobile analytics to determine what information they need, when they need it, and how they would like best to obtain it.
  • Leverage mobile’s natural process of collaboration. Tablets enable end-users to be “social” with their data. Design mobile analytics applications that enable interactivity (i.e., filtering, panning, sorting, zooming, commenting, etc) so that data can be shared and discussed during meetings and discussions.  This, of course, means that such solutions need to be fast enough to load quickly and keep pace with a discussion.

There is no question that mobile analytics in healthcare is the way much information will be shared with and between users. This means that developers of healthcare analytics applications such as dashboards, reports, and other analyses, must be prepared for the use of these devices. In fact, we should encourage healthcare organizations to adopt mobile platforms. Since the goal of healthcare analytics is to deploy solutions that enable healthcare providers, administrators, and other decision-makers to have the information they require when and  where needed, there is no solution better than a mobile solution!

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