Self-Service BI | ScopeTalk

What’s all this fuss over self-service BI?

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Author: The BI team at Scope Systems.

The evolution of Business Intelligence

In days of old, when a requirement for business intelligence was identified, the cogs would slowly begin to turn, teams of experts would scratch their collective heads and work would begin.  As these old systems were based on technology stacks, work would begin on the lowest stack and slowly permeate through until something was ready to deliver.

Along came dimensional modelling and in memory analytics which replaced the need for these stacks.  What you needed then was a small team of BI experts who could cut through the layers and get you from database to dashboard in record time with minimal fuss (and expense too).

The next iteration of improvement was to move a lot of the development aspect to the ‘end user’.  The people who consume these applications are the ones who can now build them.  This is in essence was the birth of Self-service BI (SSBI).

Don’t we need to be experts though?

No, not at all.

As the user interface of these systems has reached new levels, people who don’t have any sort of background in statistical analysis, data mining or business intelligence now have the ability to build the applications that they need. Having said all this though, the need to have BI experts on hand is still crucial.

Why do we need experts then?

The BI systems needs to be installed, configured and governed by someone with those competencies.  The data warehouse needs to be built and tested before any one starts making decisions based on the data they see.  Giving the end users free reign over the data could get messy, very messy.  This is where data governance comes to the fore.  A good SSBI tool has the ability for the expert to define the building blocks that the end user can safely use within their apps. This allows them to manipulate the data they see without corrupting the original data set.

Take the scenario of sales.  We need to agree and define up front how the totals sales figure is calculated.  How do we calculate this on a transactional basis?  Which table?  Which field?  What should they have access to?  Once this is established and built into the BI tools arsenal by the experts, the user can then choose how to present that data and how to carve up the sales figure.  The business now gives them free reign over presentation, but still has control over data quality, security and privacy.

Teaching BI

How do we get started?

There are plenty SSBI tools out there.  You need to choose one that provides a multitude of visualisations, one that is easy enough for user to get started but it must give your experts the necessary tools to stay in control of what the users are able to do.  It’s important to remember this is self-service but only within the defined framework.

It’s self-service but not self-training.  One of the main reasons these projects can come off the rails is that the end users are expected to train themselves.  The interfaces make it fairly straight forward, but if the users have to find time to get to grips with this without the necessary training then the result can be an unnecessarily have a slow uptake, causing a loss in momentum and possible failure. This is painful to think about, especially considering that training is a readily available option for most tools.

The users are busy.  We are giving them a tool to cut down the time taken in gathering and formatting data, so they have more time to make decisions with the insight the data gives them.  Asking them to spend lots of time experimenting may just force them back to the safe world of Excel.  Some well positioned training to get them a head start plus access to an expert when they get stuck could make all the difference.

Want to get started with BI? We have powerful BI solutions and can also provide comprehensive training for them. Gain improved insight into your data and enhance your decision making capabilities today.

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