There seems to be a lot of interest lately about the true self-service business intelligence definition, so I thought it might be a good idea to provide a clear explanation, plus how self-service BI differs from traditional BI and also some of its key benefits. Self-service business intelligence has played an important role in many organizations for the past 25 years as an approach to deploying ad hoc reporting capabilities and data exploration to the business users.
I would define self-service business intelligence as an approach to data analysis that empowers end users to design and deploy their own queries, reports, and analyses within an approved architecture designed and supported by the organization.
When employees in your organization need to analyze important business information, they will be armed with BI tools that can access the data directly without having to rely on the IT Department. Not only do users have access to data for reporting and analysis, some of the latest BI tools come with robust data preparation capabilities that allow users to cleanse, filter and combine data sets for even more advanced analysis.
Self-service business intelligence will expedite decision-making across your organization and it will empower users to take ownership of their information needs and become more self-reliant for their reporting and analysis.
How does the self-service business intelligence definition differ from the definition of traditional business intelligence practices?
Traditionally, business intelligence operations are owned and controlled by team of business intelligence experts within IT who have sole control over the data, business intelligence tools, and also reporting design and development. When users need specific reports or custom dashboards, they submit a request and must wait for the IT/BI team to deliver the report, which typically happens over several iterations. As you can imagine, this process eventually causes bottlenecks and delays, frustrating the business and potentially giving IT a bad rap.
Deploying a self-service business intelligence tool allows you to provide a comprehensive and intuitive interface that makes interacting with data more approachable for those who don’t have a technical background. It’s important to note that the BI tool by itself is not the only key component to deploying self-service BI. There are a host of other factors such as governance, security, and training. Ultimately, there is a shared sense of responsibility between the business and IT.
Benefits of Self-Service Business Intelligence
Now that you have a better understanding of the self-service business intelligence definition, let’s talk about the some of the key benefits of implementing self-service BI in your organization.
Enable Business Users & Reduce Reliance on IT
Self-service business intelligence puts the power of data into the hands of your entire team, allowing them to make quicker, more informed decisions without having to rely on your IT staff to deliver the reports. This improves efficiencies in your business operations and allows your technical staff to remain focused on high-level priorities. User don’t always know what they want when it comes to reporting and have a hard time articulating that to IT. Self-service BI enables them to explore and become more familiar with data, allowing them to look at any type of report or analysis they want.
Provide access to a single “version of truth”
Many organizations still waste a ton of time manually pulling data to piece together disparate data sets from operational reports, file extracts and spreadsheets. This is very inefficient and prone to human error.
Instead, organization can implement or leverage their existing data warehouse to automatically integrate, cleanse, validate and load data into an organized central repository. This data can be extracted from various sources across your organization, including accounting/finance, HR, operations and even external data sets. Plus, this data is automatically refreshed, providing users with the most current information.
One critical design consideration for the central data repository (data warehouse or more often data marts) is that it should contain well-designed dimensional data models (star schema). These models are extremely helpful to improve usability and query performance. Finally, it helps ensure consistent, accurate results as everyone is using the same rules and metrics to uncover key business insights.
With a well-defined data warehouse in place, BI self-service tools can easily be deployed with an intuit interface and access to a single trusted source of data.
Promote a Data-driven Culture
As we mentioned earlier, self service BI is a shared responsibility between IT and the business stakeholders. Working closely together, each side of the business can educate the other on how data is captured, defined and consumed to make the organization more educated and informed about its customers, products, operations and finances. This will empower users, allow them to be more agile and prepare them to make better, more confident business decisions.
Getting Started with Self-Service BI Tools
Armed with a deeper understanding of the self-service business intelligence definition (and how you can leverage self-service BI in your organization), let's consider the specific tools you'll need.
There are a lot of different self-service BI tools on the market today, each with their own set of features, interfaces and benefits. Some of the leading self-service analytical tools come from vendors like Microsoft, Tableau, IBM, Salesforce, SAP, Sisense, and other niche players.
Accessibility, feature options and ease of use vary across these different platforms, and so we recommend starting with your business needs and goals first before committing to a tool (that may potentially be more than you need). Some offer simple dashboards while others allow you to accomplish complex data preparation tasks or advanced data visualizations.
If you’re trying to decide how to implement or improve self-service BI for your organization, please feel free to reach out and we can discuss and provide recommendations for deploying self-service BI based on your unique needs.