Is Self-service BI a good thing?

One of BI’s biggest trends is Self-service BI. By 2017, most business users and analysts in organizations will have access to self-service tools to prepare data for analysis. But we need to be aware that it comes with its challenges. If we are well informed when we jump on the self-service BI train—about its benefits and challenges—we will be better prepared to make the most out of it.

The Challenges of the Past

Back in the day, business users needed to request access to data from the IT department. The BI tools were not intuitive so there was no way to go around IT. This created a lot of delays and bottlenecks in the process of analyzing and reaching insights. Business users needed better usability. They needed speed to make timely data driven decisions. If they only relied on IT, there were many delays in the delivery of reports and in the decision making process. BI tools started to address the problem. New technologies appeared to allow self-service access to non-IT users.

What is it?

Data preparation is one of the most difficult and time-consuming challenges facing business users of BI and data discovery tools, as well as advanced analytics platforms. However, data preparation capabilities are emerging that will provide business users and analysts the ability to extend the scope of self-service to include information management, and extract, transform and load (ETL) functions, enabling them to access, profile, prepare, integrate, curate, model, and enrich data for analysis and consumption by BI and analytics platforms.

Self-service BI is an approach that allows business users to access and work with data sources even though they don’t have an analyst background.

Self-service BI tools are more user friendly to allow business users to access and analyze data sources without depending on the IT department.

By allowing the business users to make decisions based on their own analyses, we are giving more time to the BI and IT teams to focus on other more important tasks than just generating reports. And at the same time, the business users have the freedom to create their own dashboards and reports when they want them. This gives them data insights faster so that they can make decisions and react to situations accordingly.

In order to satisfy the end user’s needs, the self-service BI tool needs to be intuitive and user friendly.

Modern Challenges

One challenge that self-service BI faces is flexibility. It has to be useful for both experienced analysts and business users. But the biggest challenge out there is how to maintain one single version of the truth if everyone can access data. Through 2016, less than 10% of self-service BI initiatives will be governed sufficiently to prevent inconsistencies that adversely affect the business.

If many business users can analyze data, there can be a problem of data democratization that could lead to multiple versions of the truth. The rise of data discovery, access to multi-structured data, data preparation tools, and smart capabilities will further democratize access to analytics and stress the need for governance.

The governance policies to address this issue will lead to more privacy restrictions, which will end up limiting the end user. If the user ends up being too limited, we end up back where we started. So the big challenge is: how to balance self-service and governed data to obtain a single version of the truth.

The Recipe for Success and IT’s Role

The key to self-service’s success is governance. A data governance policy is imperative. This policy should include processes about the creation and sharing of reports, restrictions and access to confidential data, and how data security and quality will be maintained.

Governed self-service provides business users with the freedom to explore any data and act on every insight while giving IT the power to manage the system. The result is “one version of the truth” throughout the organization in a complete web based environment. There needs to be enterprise-grade governance and a high level of data security.

As self-service BI tools continue to evolve, more powerful analytics and visualization will be available to end users. What will be IT’s role in all this? Some people are talking about IT disappearing from the BI scene. But that’s not what will happen.

IT will still need to be involved. The organization’s IT team should ideally train the business users to understand what data is available and how to query the information. They also have to set up the data warehouse and data marts so that business users can query the data and create dashboards and reports without needing a more technological background. Boris Evelson, VP of Forrester Research, speaks of the future of BI being a System of Insight. The System of Insight is a product of the Age of the Consumer. The consumer, in this case the business user, will take the wheel, while IT needs to be there to support.

The point of self-service BI is not to separate business users from IT completely, but rather to develop a better working relationship that will help them both reach their goals. The business user can analyze data faster and more accurately, while IT can take the time previously used in creating dashboards and reports and invest it in more important activities to help the organization.

There are BI tools that have tackled the new challenges of self-service BI. Panorama Software’s Necto 16 can deliver to you a governed self-service experience. Plus, it’s collaborative, allowing business users and IT members to connect even on a data cell level, sharing their insights and working together to maintain one single version of the truth.

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