Self-Service Business Intelligence: Empowering Users to Generate Insights


Overview | What you'll learn: 

In today's economic environment, organizations must use business intelligence (BI) to make smarter, faster decisions. Yet, in too many organizations, decisions are still not based on business intelligence because of the inability to keep up with demand for information and analytics. One way to satisfy this demand is to set up a self-service BI (SS BI) environment.

Self-service BI offers an environment in which information workers can create and access specific sets of BI reports, queries, and analytics themselves—without IT intervention. This approach extends the reach and scope of BI applications to address a wider range of business needs and problems. At the same time, this extension must support the information workers’ need for a personalized and collaborative decision-making environment. Information workers must become more self-sufficient by having a BI environment that is more usable and more consumable. It is these two themes—usability and consumability—that play crucial roles in a fully functioning self-service BI (SS BI) environment.

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In today’s economic environment, organizations must use business intelligence (BI) to make smarter, faster decisions. The business case for BI is well established. Access to BI is what gives companies their competitive edge and allows them to discover new business opportunities. Yet, in too many organizations, decisions are still not based on business intelligence because of the inability to keep up with demand for information and analytics. IT has been stripped down to the barest numbers, even while information workers are demanding more control and faster access to BI and business data.

To satisfy this demand and accelerate time to value, one approach involves setting up an environment in which the information workers can create and access specific sets of BI reports, queries, and analytics themselves—with minimal IT intervention—in a self-service BI (SS BI) environment. Information workers become more self-sufficient by having an environment that is easy to use and supplies information that is easy to consume. It is these two themes—ease of use and information consumability—that play crucial roles in a fully functioning SS BI environment.

Self-service BI is defined as the facilities within the BI environment that enable BI users to become more self-reliant and less dependent on the IT organization. These facilities focus on four main objectives: easy access to source data for reporting and analysis, easy-to-use BI tools and improved support for data analysis, fast-to-deploy and easy-to-manage data warehouse options such as appliances and cloud computing, and simpler and customizable end-user interfaces.

This report describes the technological underpinnings of these four objectives in great detail while recognizing that there are two opposing forces at work—the need for IT to control the creation and distribution of BI assets and the demand from information workers to have freedom and flexibility without requiring IT help. Companies seeking to implement self-service BI must reach a middle ground in which information workers have free access to data, analytics, and BI components while IT has oversight into the SS BI environment to observe its utilization. This gives the information workers the independence and self-determination they need to answer questions and make decisions while giving IT the ability to monitor the SS BI environment and apply governance and security measures where necessary. For guidance, this report provides p practical recommendations to ensure a successful SS BI environment.

Introduction to Self-Service Business Intelligence

Definition of Self-Service BI
The facilities within the BI environment that enable BI users to become more self-reliant and less dependent on the IT organization. These facilities focus on four main objectives: easier access to source data for reporting and analysis, easier and improved support for data analysis features, faster deployment options such as appliances and cloud computing, and simpler, customizable, and collaborative end-user interfaces.

In today’s economic environment, organizations must use business intelligence (BI) to make smarter, faster decisions. Business users must have better access to critical information at the right time and in the right format for comprehension. The business case for BI is well established; it gives companies their competitive edge and allows them to discover new business opportunities. Corporations and their employees need to be innovative and creative if they are to compete effectively. “Those with the imagination … to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers, or new ways to combine existing technologies will thrive.”1 But in many organizations, countless decisions are still not based on business intelligence and analytics. Why? Certainly not from a lack of demand. Because of the changes in our economies, IT departments have been stripped down to the barest numbers, even as business users are demanding more control and faster access to BI and business data. From our survey of 587 technical and business professionals, we found that an overwhelming 78% of respondents stated that they needed a faster time to value from BI solutions.

To satisfy this demand and improve time to value, companies are looking for alternative approaches to BI. One approach is to set up an environment in which the information workers can create and access specific sets of BI reports, queries, and analytics themselves—without IT intervention. The purpose of this environment is to extend the reach and scope of BI applications to address a wider range of business needs and problems. At the same time, this extension must support the information workers’ need for a personalized and collaborative decision-making environment. Information workers must become more self-sufficient by having a BI environment that is more usable and more consumable. It is these two themes—usability and consumability—that play crucial roles in a fully functioning self-service business intelligence (SS BI) environment.

Self-Service Business Intelligence and Its Objectives

Make BI Results Easy to Consume and Enhance

This objective is probably the most important from the business community’s perspective. Users must be able to grasp what the information presented to them means. A fire hose of information makes it difficult to determine where things are going off-kilter, where exceptions occur, or even get a handle on critical situations. SS BI must be an environment in which it is easy to discover, access, and share information, reports, and analytics. Information workers want to be able to personalize their dashboards or have automated BI capabilities so that the information becomes actionable for their particular situations. It must also be in an easy-to-use format and delivered to a device and user interface of their choosing.

From a technical perspective, BI that is easy to consume and enhance requires clear business definitions that are easily accessible as well as data lineage that is tracked and documented. The organization improves its decision making by tracking interactions and decisions to discover, capture, and disseminate best practices. In addition, the information must be presented in a way that is easy for users to understand: data visualization and presentation are paramount for comprehension.

Finally, information workers increase knowledge content through interactions such as entering feedback on analytic results, models, and other BI results; adding business context on situations; and identifying related information such as external links, meteorological data, and other data that affects business activities. This allows the information workers to improve an organization’s body of knowledge content. It also enables them to be more self-sufficient and make faster decisions. This feature helps BI implementers create environments that are appealing to business users and promotes the adoption of self-service.

Make BI Tools Easy to Use

Not only do BI results need to be easy to consume and enhance, but the tools generating the results must also be easy to use. BI solution providers have focused on making these technologies easy to use for years and, for the most part, vendors have succeeded in making them straightforward and simple. This is a significant factor in the success of any SS BI environment. It may help even novice information workers select their own reports and create simple analyses. It will certainly allow technologically savvy users to get what they need when they need it.

Although reporting and simple analytics interfaces have achieved a high level of ease of use, we still need to make the more complicated analytics easy to use, create, and publish. Sophisticated analytics are often too intricate, complex, or difficult to construct for many information workers. Support for such sophisticated analyses, as well as making results easy to publish in the required format, greatly improves the productivity of a company’s information workers.

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