Here, we will discuss the importance of self service in the current business scenario and how self-service BI can help businesses leverage information to their advantage, improve agility in responding to market change and reduce cost. We will also discuss key success factors for robust implementation and a methodology for self-service BI.
How is Business Using BI Today?
Business intelligence has come a long way since its inception in 1980s. While the fundamental objective of supporting business decisions remains the same , BI is now at the juncture where business needs to perform more analysis on more data from more disparate sources in less time and for less money. Before we get into whether BI meets expectations or not, let’s see how BI is being used today from a usage standpoint. Figure 1 shows analysis from TWDI Research, which shows usage is limited in most categories, with only one-fourth of business users utilizing BI.
Let’s examine how different groups within organizations leverage BI.
End user community (including operational users, middle management and senior management): This user community essentially depends on canned reports developed by IT or power users. They may use some flexible analysis, such as drill through capabilities and report formatting. In any organization this is a large user base, yet they are not leveraging BI capabilities effectively.
Power user community/Analysts: The power users including analysts, in a given function or business unit are more BI literate and are able to generate reports leveraging IT-enabled content/data. The extent of usage varies greatly in organizations depending on toolsets used, available training and skill levels and processes used.
It must be also noted that significant analysis still continues with spreadsheets. While this potentially satisfies an immediate need, it indicates that either BI tools are not able to provide the required functionality or users are not trained to leverage investments in BI. There are many ad hoc analytics requirements which are never fulfilled; if it takes too much time to get answers, then the questions become irrelevant.. Thus, there are unfulfilled requirements that BI is not able to address.
While BI has evolved and matured, there are still battles to be won. Before we look at how self-service BI can help, let’s see what business expects from BI.
What Does Business Expect from BI Today?
The biggest concerns about BI are whether it lives up to its expectations and whether users get their money’s worth from their investment. While there is no easy or single answer to these issues, there are few areas where BI has underdelivered.
- Penetration of BI remains low in most organizations, possibly because BI has not met expectations from all quarters.
- Due to increased centralization, BI has not adapted to change or responded to business demands quickly.
As companies are fiercely competing in the marketplace, the business model is constantly evolving. This means BI must provide relevant data and analytics to adapt quickly to business needs. While the business needs agility in implementing new solutions and making changes to existing solutions, IT organizations are becoming bottleneck in meeting demands and adapting to the changes. There are three key needs here: agility, flexibility and reduced dependency on IT.
Why is Self-Service BI More Important Now?
In last decade there was focus on integration of systems and eliminating data redundancy. While this helped organizations in providing reliable reporting platform with quality data for analysis and decision support, it led to complexities in BI systems due to interdependencies. This made organizations introduce strict governance and change control processes. The undesirable by-product of the scenario is that BI organizations are finding it difficult to keep pace with the business needs. The budget pressure on IT has not helped either.
This means that IT may not provide answers to all business problems and questions. IT must relinquish some control to business or, ideally, enable business meet its own analytical needs.
Businesspeople have been running queries leveraging data models provided by IT for a long time, and most BI vendors provided some capabilities in this area. However, the business demand and IT limitations mean this must now be extended further to include additional functionality and support a wider user base. Technological advances in the BI marketplace make this concept viable. Most product vendors now offer robust capabilities by offering tools that are now more intuitive, require less training and provide added functionality that makes analysis easy and fast.
What is Self-Service BI?
I've come to an inclusive definition of self-service BI:
Self-service BI is a combination of tools, technologies, processes and best practices that helps businesspeople perform data analysis in self-sufficient manner, leading to improved adoption of BI. The IT department plays the crucial role of service enablement and continuous improvement of BI services to support flexible analysis of internal and data.
Thus, the key attributes of self-service BI are:
- Ability for anyone to generate analytics/reports,
- Reduced IT involvement,
- IT-enabled access to data, leading to flexibility,
- Tools with interactive, intuitive, personalized features
- Optimized robust processes, best practices and a governance model for continuous improvements,
- Reduced time for deployment and changes.