Commercial banks recognize perhaps as well as anyone that time is money, and even small shifts in the cost of funds can have significant impact on banks' commercial loan performance. To remain nimble in the global economy, financial institutions require near-real-time performance measures and alerts for events requiring review or action.

Those measures and alerts often come from Web-based business intelligence dashboards.

But bankers are no longer deskbound. More likely, they are meeting off-site with clients and sharing the business data, and they do not necessarily want to lug a laptop. With the functionality of smartphones and tablets increasing there comes a number of considerations for business intelligence:

Data type and design: What works on a laptop or paper report (tables, pie charts, etc.) may not work well on a tablet or smartphone.

Interactivity, collaboration and alerting capability: These each must be tailored to the tablet or smartphone platform.

Security: As tablets and phones initially evolved for personal use with limited security concerns, their use in corporate settings demands enterprise-class security mechanisms.

Increasingly, sophisticated financial institutions are making it easier for employees to get their business intelligence on the go. In a recent report, "Mobile BI: Actionable Intelligence for the Agile Enterprise," Aberdeen Group noted that 80% of best-in-class businesses currently use or are planning to use mobile business intelligence delivered via a native application, rather than a Web browser. Companies that use mobile business intelligence make critical management decisions in one-sixth of the time required, compared with companies that do not use mobile business intelligence — 26 hours compared with 165 hours. The study also found that top-performing mobile business intelligence-using organizations achieved a "time-to-decision" interval of 3.8 hours, three times faster than all other business intelligence users not employing mobile.

Moving business intelligence to a mobile platform evolves from the realization among high-performing organizations that business intelligence isn't just for strategic decisions made in the boardroom; it is necessary for front-line employees making daily decisions. Financial information no longer has simple, black-and-white parameters. There are multiple loan rates, decisions on granting a loan need to be made on the spot (versus weeks of review), and banks are constantly adjusting to whom and how much they can lend, based on risk-adjusted portfolios. The terms a financial institution can offer in the morning might change by the afternoon — and could certainly change by the next day. Bankers meeting with clients need access to this information 24/7.

Letting bankers tap into the company's internal website through their smartphones isn't enough. If you've ever struggled to read an article on your phone or view a complex chart on a tablet, you already understand that business intelligence on a mobile device isn't just a matter of logging in to the company dashboard.

Traditional ways of presenting information, including pie charts, tables — essentially anything that is static, has limited value. Mobile users expect an interactive experience. Thus, bar charts and sparklines that allow users to drill down into the data are a better option. Being able to use a finger or stylus to brush over data is another important feature. Animation options that allow users to see change over time are equally critical.

What does a banker need an alert about? Who decides which tables need drill-down capability and what can be provided in a more static manner? The best mobile business intelligence applications engage the users in designing the alerts and fashioning the interactive aspects of the information delivered. The best developers know what updates need to be pushed automatically and when. They also understand how to create reports that will work regardless of whether it is being accessed natively on a mobile device or from a Web browser in the office.

Financial firms don't just have critical competitive data on their networks; they have information that is subject to regulation. Their challenge is not only to keep information secure while it is on the device, but securing the transmittal of data to a mobile device is also critical.

Because mobile devices can get lost or stolen, the ideal approach to security is layered. At the server level users are authenticated, and their access to data is determined by security administration. Between the server and mobile device, data passes in an encrypted session. At the physical level, mobile devices are secured by a passcode lock, autolock after periods of inactivity, and autowiping of devices after failed unlock attempts. Administrators can configure security to wipe application-specific data that is cached or the complete device.

Several banks are already putting mobile business intelligence to work. In Italy, a bank my company works with put Apple iPads in the hands of all its bankers. These individuals now have at hand their latest performance information during conference calls held to discuss marketplace changes. In the past these mobile bankers depended on printing out PDFs before going on the road, so if a call was held participants could be viewing different versions of the data.

In Asia some banks are simply bypassing the step of outfitting their bankers with laptops and going straight to tablets.

While mobile has clear technical advantages, it also fosters a more personal engagement between bankers and customers in face-to-face meetings. With banking services increasingly perceived as a commodity, banks seek to emphasize the relationship. Removing the big box monitor or laptop from the desk and sharing financial details on a tablet creates a more intimate and accessible engagement. Sharing a view of the same information during financial discussions engenders trust. So while mobile business intelligence drives high-tech banking, it also delivers high-touch benefits.