There’s a lot of hype out there by many vendors who claim that they have tools and technologies to enable business intelligence, end user self-service. Do they? When you analyze whether your BI vendor can support end user self-service, consider the following types of “self-service” and related BI tool requirements:

1. Self-service for average, casual users.

-What do these users need to do?

  • Run and lightly customize canned reports and dashboards
  • Run ad hoc queries
  • Add calculated measures
  • Collaborate
  • Fulfill their BI requirements with little or no training (typically one needs search-like, not point-and-click user interface for this)

- What capabilities do they need for this?

  • Report and dashboard templates
  • Customizable prompts, sorts, filters and ranks
  • Report, query and dashboard building wizards
  • Portal
  • Semantic layer (not all BI vendor have a rich semantic layer)
  • Prompting for columns (not all BI vendors let you do that)
  • Drill anywhere (only BI vendors with ROLAP and multisourcing/data federation provide this capability)

2. Self-service for advanced, power users
- What do these users need to do?

  • Perform what-if scenarios (this often requires write back, which very few BI vendors allow)
  • Add metrics, measures and hierarchies not supported by the underlying data model (typically one needs some kind of in-memory analytics capability for this)
  • Explore based on new (not previously defined) entity relationships (typically one needs some kind of in-memory analytics capability for this)
  • Not knowing exactly what one is looking for (typically one needs search-like UI for this)

- What capabilities do they need for this?

3. Ability to instantly add a new data source (unmodeled). This typically requires some kind of integrated data federation capability.
4. Ability to instantly provision new BI app (via BI SaaS or a mashup) or add storage capacity (usually this requires some kind of data virtualization, private cloud or BI SaaS).

So here’s the list categorized by whether it’s a commodity feature that most BI vendors provide vs. unique and differentiated features that only certain BI vendors offer:

Commodity:

  • Report and dashboard templates
  • Customizable prompts, sorts, filters and ranks
  • Point and click GUI
  • Report wizards
  • Mashups

Unique and differentiated:

  • Write back
  • In-memory analytics
  • Analytics with search like UI
  • Rich semantic layer
  • Prompting for columns
  • ROLAP
  • Data federation tightly integrated with BI apps
  • BI SaaS

If your BI vendor offers most of these, then indeed, yes, they can claim to enable end user BI self-service.
Boris also blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/boris_evelson/.