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Today's executives are on the move, and they need to be able to run their companies remotely. Mobile business intelligence (BI) applications allow them to access critical corporate data from their laptops, smart phones and PDAs. The iPhone promises to deliver information on an even more compact and versatile device. But can BI vendors make it work with the information executives depend on?

The answer is yes, but it's important to understand both the limitations and the architectural requirements of this amazing new platform. Let's take a step back and consider the iPhone's legacy, beginning with the iPod.

The iPod was successful because it creatively destroyed product boundaries, hastening the convergence of disk storage, high-resolution video screens, and music technologies. Apple changed our perceptions about mobile media, creating a newer, faster, sleeker type of product.

The iPhone is on a similar path of creative destruction -- this time, with the potential to replace phones, PDAs, and even the iPod itself. It's already a success in the consumer world. The major challenge facing Apple is to prove that the iPhone is viable for the business world.

That's where BI comes in.

As business people begin to use mobile phones and laptops almost interchangeably, and as those phones become capable of displaying rich web content, mobile workers are seeking more extensive access to corporate data. Apple embedded an advanced Safari browser in the iPhone to allow people to take advantage of the same web-based applications that they use on their desktops, eliminating the need for dual devices for many employees.

If you can write e-mail, watch movies, and browse the web on your phone, why not check your bills and bank statements as well? How about filing expense reports, your sales numbers, and verifying the status of an order?

These tantalizing scenarios open doors to an exciting range of possibilities, assuming your BI software can work properly in the elegant yet constrained iPhone environment.

There are currently two approaches to mobile BI deployments: thick-client and thin-client. Thick-client deployments run special software on each type of mobile device, fed by special servers that manage the interactions with those devices. The client-side software controls how content is displayed, which was an important factor in the early days of mobile browsers, when each device displayed content differently.

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