Business intelligence has been an important initiative for C-level executives, with many CIOs placing BI as a number one priority. This means many organizations have broad BI infrastructures with disparate reporting, dashboarding and analytics solutions across multiple departments. How these solutions are used and their level of interactivity is constantly an area of concern for organizations trying to get the most out of their technology investments. As BI continues to evolve based on technology enhancements and new feature sets that were previously unavailable, organizations can take advantage of technology to enhance business visibility throughout the organization.

The two key ways this can be achieved are through the development of self-service BI models and the adoption of social networking principles. Developing a BI framework including both of these enables organizations to take information discovery to the next level by focusing on expanding overall BI use across the organization, enabling collaboration and empowering employees by increasing autonomy. This article looks at the importance of social networking and collaboration and how it affects overall BI use. This article also identifies how integrating self-service BI models within a social networking framework creates the most effective type of business intelligence for business users.

The Self-Service BI Movement

Although many still differentiate the use of social networking and self-service BI models, the reality is that both aspire toward the same outcome - empowering end users through technology. Ease of use, high levels of interactivity and the ability to create unique and individual experiences define the goals of both. Consequently, as newer entrants to the BI playing field develop solutions espousing self-service, many are based on social networking platforms, with out-of-the-box features that include chat capabilities, annotations, the sharing of analytics and customization of experience and information analyzed. In essence, this shows us how integrated the two are in relation to ease of use and interactivity. After all, self-service BI is all about making business intelligence accessible to people irrespective of their comfort with technology, which in turn leads to the development of interactive and intuitive applications.

Traditional BI has always required formalized training, a deep understanding of algorithms, and defined data and analytics access developed in advance. Unfortunately for many organizations, this level of knowledge required as an entry point led to small adoption and the inability to define BI value and ROI. In addition, the types of information and insights being discovered were limited to a certain type of end user and, in many cases, lacked the strategic insights desired.

Therefore, the real value of self-service BI models lies in its potential: the potential for any business user to make informed decisions based on his or her individual role within the organization. As more organizations start to change their BI outlook to take into account a more self-service view of business intelligence, the role of social networking and its ease of use and interactivity will continue to increase. For instance, companies looking to maintain a competitive edge will adopt a broader view of BI and abandon the structured data warehouse approach toward a framework supporting ad hoc analysis and more intuitive interaction with data. This establishes the ablity to answer business questions using data as opposed to interacting with BI through predefined and complex analytics.

Use of Communities to Enhance Data Discovery

The ability to interact with BI in a way that complements information gathering and investigation parallels social networking principles. When looking at online communities in general, whether open source, business oriented, or social, the overwriting premise remains to enable people to communicate with others, share information and to do so in a way that is intuitive and independent of a person’s comfort with technology.

Bringing this into the organization and within the structure of BI creates an environment that encourages collaboration and information sharing. Much of an organization’s data remains in silos as information is kept in disparate systems and only accessible to a few. Barring the obvious privacy and security requirements, access to more information and to varying opinions can only enhance the decision-making process. In addition, the ability to break down political barriers and create interdepartmental communication and initiatives helps decision-makers broaden their understanding of their role within the organization and how their contributions affect the bottom line.

Looking at BI specifically, a community approach to information sharing helps with the overall data discovery process. In many cases, traditional BI provides access to analytics but not to information. This means the traditional approach to BI requires knowing what questions to ask in advance. Unfortunately, although predefined questions are valuable, they only provide part of the visibility required to make competitive business decisions. To run a business effectively, companies need to be able to access information in a way that lets them drill into potential challenges as they occur and without hitting walls due to lack of flexibility.

Where BI is (or Should Be) Headed

Even though the self-service model and its general role of supporting a flexible analytics framework provides a next-generation approach to BI and supports the increasingly important role of community and social networking capabilities within the organization, the reality remains that few organizations use BI in this way. The market place currently has as many definitions of self-service as there are vendors saying they offer these solutions. In addition, only a subset of solution offerings provide general social networking capabilities or are built on a platform that encourages business users to interact with the solution independently.

The importance of social media, its role within organizations and the expansion of how people interact with technology cannot be overlooked. The overlap of self-serve and a community-oriented approach to analytics needs to be a strong consideration in every organization. This is not only to adapt to the way people expect to interact with technology, but also because as more and more organizations adopt a more interactive approach to customer interactions and partner relationships, it will become the only way to keep up with the competition.

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