Self-service business intelligence: definitions and examples

Self-service business intelligence (SSBI) empowers teams such as product developers, sales, finance, marketing, operations, and more to answer data questions, with governance supported by IT and business intelligence (BI) analysts. BI is the strategic process of using data insights to make decisions that help organizations reach their goals. Instead of using gut instinct, precedents, and traditional mindsets, self-service BI helps to create a new culture around using data every day. This guide will show you what the difference is between more traditional forms of business intelligence and more modern self-service BI, why your organization should consider embracing self-service, and how you can get started.

What is the difference between BI and SSBI?

Traditional BI relied on IT departments to create data analysis processes for business goals. In this process, business users (sales, finance, and HR, among others) store their data and ask analysts or IT colleagues to query the data to generate performance reports, forecast trends, and more. This traditional method allowed IT much more control over data quality, but often meant bottlenecks and resource constraints that would throttle a business’s speed to insight.

Instead, SSBI focuses on supporting the end user, allowing business users and analysts to be more involved in their own data analysis. Data teams are still involved in SSBI, but IT teams instead focus on how data is ingested and governed within the organization, and analysts can use their expertise to dig deep into data mining or modeling projects rather than answer ad hoc reporting requests. Business users are given the ability to explore their data quickly within the well-considered boundaries that IT or data teams set up.

Real, valuable business intelligence is an end-to-end iterative process. Business teams need relevant, timely data to uncover accurate insights. Deploying platforms to do this is just one crucial part of BI.

Self-service BI doesn’t mean training everyone to be data analysts; it also doesn’t mean taking responsibility from your IT department. Instead, SSBI means encouraging and educating your business teams to understand and interact with the data they generate throughout their work.

Self-service BI vs. Corporate BI

Enterprise BI (or “corporate BI”) is the widespread deployment of BI platforms and processes throughout an enterprise business or corporation. Corporate BI includes deploying data warehouses, new databases, data-mapping projects, and more depending on the enterprise’s needs.

The goals of enterprise BI and SSBI are similar:

  • Empower users to use data for decision-making
  • Prioritize clean, timely, and relevant data for analysis
  • Share data insights across teams and executive leadership

However, enterprise BI often involves an entire overhaul of how data is ingested and used in the organization. Usually, the self-service aspect focuses on analytics and reporting processes and how project owners delegate those processes to business teams of all technical abilities. SSBI doesn’t necessarily need an organization-wide deployment, but corporate BI and SSBI aren’t mutually exclusive either. Many of our customers have deployed SSBI across their entire enterprise.

Self-service BI examples

EMC saw deploying self-service BI across the enterprise as an opportunity to be a collaborative project between IT and business. Their self-service BI model put valuable data in the hands of those who need it while ensuring their data was secure. BI self-service and governance were the entire organization’s priorities, not just a single team. After their deployment, data became more visible, and teams more transparent.

Millard Public Schools wanted to use its IT workforce more efficiently. By empowering their administrators and teachers to interact with their data and create their reports, the IT teams could focus on governance and grander-scale projects. Millard Public Schools’ Data Warehouse Specialist, Jac Thiessen said of the deployment: “Having a self-service model is great because I’m not inundated with request after request that I have to put all together. Instead, I can put out a few tools, and they [teachers and administrators] can work with those and get a lot of the answers that they need.”

Benefits and challenges of SSBI

As you can see in our customer stories, customers have found great benefit and return on investment in SSBI. Benefits include:

  • The reduced lag time when users can answer their questions and follow-up questions
  • Faster speed to insight
  • Increased quality of data reporting
  • Competitive advantage in having timely, relevant insights
  • A crucial step in creating a data culture in the organization
  • Improved data literacy

However, like any data project, self-service BI will present some challenges to launch and use. SSBI will involve investment in a new platform that allows data analysis for your teams. You will also need to develop a BI self-service strategy that defines what goals you want to reach and decides ownership and milestones for your deployment.

Also, your new platform or tools will require training business users and will need executive sponsorship to see the benefits. A dedicated IT team to deploy the platform and connect it to data sources and a leader to train users will overcome these challenges easily and quickly adopt a data culture.

Features to look for in a self-service BI platform

As discussed earlier, self-service BI will involve one or more new platforms or tools that will allow data to be accessible to multiple teams. You should evaluate platforms according to your organizational needs, and consider the best platform that can do the following:

  1. Fit in with your organization’s existing data architecture
  2. Create reports or whatever output you need for decision-making
  3. Deploy efficiently
  4. Easily determine how much expertise is required to create these reports. For example, is SQL knowledge required, or will you want a visual interface?

SSBI can be challenging, but organizations have found great benefit in encouraging and teaching more business users how to use data for everyday decision-making. You can learn more about how IT and business teams work together to use self-service BI in our whitepaper.