Self-service BI is a welcome relief for overworked IT managers who find it difficult to stay ahead of user requests for new reports and applications. It is not a replacement for standard parameterized reports, but an augmentation to enable key functions and leaders to leverage their own analytics, without pressuring scarce IT resources. With self-service BI, the users no longer have to wait days, weeks, or months for a report, only to discover that the key functionality is missing, or it is no longer relevant.
Changing BI usage landscape
The main aim of BI is to empower business users with better information than they could obtain from operational systems. Traditional BI relies on a centralized, cleansed and transformed store of data that users can access through standardized reports and perhaps an ad-hoc query tool. Reports are developed by BI experts, unlike self-service BI.
Once the traditional system is deployed, people who need specialized reports or new data sources must file change requests with those running the BI platform. Since only a few programmers are trained well enough to handle these requests, the changes often take weeks to implement. This results in the business users pulling the original report into Excel, where they do limited (and usually inadequate) manipulation.
Many chief information officers and chief experience officers have realized that the current BI approach is unable to keep pace with the inflow of data and a dynamic business environment. Data is everywhere now, and growing exponentially – extracted from SAP, downloaded from websites, flowing from applications like Salesforce, NetSuite and Google Analytics, burgeoning in spreadsheets, saved in PDFs, and spilling out of SQL databases. The current BI platform takes too long to implement, is expensive, and delivers very little, thereby frustrating both the IT departments and the business users.
Implementing self-service BI
Making self-service BI a reality, requires discipline and foresight. The following is an eight-step model towards implementing self-service BI:
- Two types of users: Self-service BI is basically for two types of users — power and casual. Power users are savvy, and have to be empowered with data access to make their own ad-hoc reports. Casual BI users do not make reports, but need flexibility in reports like drill down and field selection in different ways. Differentiating and providing the right type of access to the right person is important in any self-service BI implementation.
- Apply the monitor, analyze, and drill (MAD) framework: The monitoring layer consists of key performance indicators (KPIs); if a KPI is red, one may analyze and then drill down to the details to do a root cause study with the aid of self-service BI.
- Don’t abdicate responsibility for report creation: To make self-service BI a reality (especially for casual users), IT managers must become more engaged with business users. This means that the BI team needs to design the MAD framework, and not outsource it to functional departments or groups.
- Build a network of super users: Super users are technically savvy business users who take responsibility for creating ad-hoc reports on behalf of colleagues in their department.
- Create a governance program to sustain self-service BI: From the bottom, the IT team needs to establish a super-user network and recruit other power users (like business analysts and subject matter experts) to form a working committee. This committee should meet monthly to resolve issues, plan enhancements, create a road map, select tools, and define standards for reports, tools, and interfaces.
- Rein in power users: Allow power users to perform their own analytics and ad-hoc reports, but formulate guidelines as to the reports can be published to others as well.
- Liberate power users: BI teams need to limit the reports that power users can publish to the masses, but at the same time—and to ensure their buy-in—they should also be provided with tools to make them more productive and valuable to their organizations.
- Select tools that support self-service BI: Remember that the user is not IT savvy. Hence, elecst self-service BI tools that are easy to use, without compromising on functionality.
Giving business people the tools to get prompt answers when required, can make a big impact in the quality of decision making within an organization. IT functions, which truly wish to be business partners, can test waters with new age tools and self-service BI.
About the author: Atul Vaidya is the business head at Corporate Renaissance Group.
This was first published in November 2010