Self-Service BI May NOT Be What You Think

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self-service-biOne of our sales reps recently asked the IT director of a mid-market manufacturing company if he’s considered self-service BI so his users could create and manage their own reports. I could hear his emphatic reaction to the idea as he blurted out over the speaker phone, “There’s no way I’d let users do that; that’s what I’m here to do!”

I thought to myself, why is this man so anti self-service when it comes to business intelligence and reporting? Does he think it would be a nightmare to support his users from an infrastructure perspective? Or that his business users are so inept they wouldn’t know where to start and his staff’s workload would ultimately quadruple to support them?

Not everyone knows what they don’t know

Several BI tools providers today promote self-service BI for the masses; but with the exception of data scientists and analysts who are proficient at digging through business data to uncover key insights, we at Silvon contend that most people don’t really know WHAT or HOW they should analyze their business information. That’s why we promote a flexible information delivery strategy where BI information can be delivered in a number of different ways to different kinds of users based on what they need to see and how complex – or far down into the data details – they need to explore.

Not all users are created equal

Unfortunately, many people believe that self-service BI will give their business users direct access to data and reporting capabilities while removing the reporting burden from the IT department. Hands down, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most users don’t understand how their data is collected, how it’s integrated, and what all the various data elements mean. As a result, there’s no way they can glean insights from their data. In addition, not every user wants to create their own queries and dive into their data. Some simply want their reports provided to them.

You still need the IT department to provide clean, well-modeled data and to handle more complex reporting applications. The goal of self-service BI is to put data in the user’s hands and reduce the burden on the IT department – not shift 100% of the BI process to users.

Ease-of-use doesn’t mean “training not required”

The rise of mobile technology has also created unrealistic expectations about business software, leading many to believe that they can start using a self-service BI application out of the box. While this sounds idealistic, not every individual within an organization is at the same competency level to first understand the platform or to go about creating a compelling data story with it concerning revenue, gaps, customer and product performance, pricing, and more. Users need to be adequately trained on how to effectively use the self-service BI application, regardless of how easy it is to manipulate.

Providing a pre-configured environment is key

Some of the self-service reporting options that we offer allow users to select what they want to view via drop-down menus or to easily make changes to (and save) pre-built analytical templates that let them easily see their information in context with other data. Plus, there’s no need for our users to have to know the technical details behind their data because our self-service system integrates with, organizes and stores data from multiple sources into a single repository (or version of the truth) that’s ready for them to run their analytics against. The repository is critical. Without properly controlling the data in this type of an environment, you’ll find inaccuracies, duplicate data, and a host of other problems that can lead to bad decisions based on bad or impartial data.

Any self-service BI tool that you select should provide a way to control your business data and user access to it, while still giving users the tools they need to create their own reports. Some BI providers have taken much of the risk out of the self-service concept by incorporating data management, user security controls, and pre-configured analytics in their solutions to address business performance across the organization.

For those of you folks out there who think it’s unreasonable to have business users create their own reports, I encourage you to reconsider. Self-service business intelligence doesn’t have to be overwhelming or as risky as it may seem. It all boils down to how well your BI provider can deploy a pre-configured analytical environment that’s driven from a well-organized data repository and capable of delivering information to users in various formats that support both their competency levels and information needs.

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This post was written by Pat Hennel