“Self-service BI” has been a term coined by the major BI vendors over the past few years, but for it to be truly successful; it needs more than just an easy to use toolset. It doesn’t surprise me that self-service BI adoption often fails, because without a cultural shift in attitude by the company leaders, a deeply embedded BI toolset and appropriate information being made available to all users, it risks failure.
Through listening to our customers, I have gained an understanding of what the mid-market needs, and above all it is quick and easy access to pertinent information and simplicity for the non-technical user. Large multi-nationals most often have the funds to employ large IT teams; however for the small to medium business, this is a luxury that is unaffordable. However, whether you are a small, medium or multi-national, multi-billion dollar company the same fundamental values of self-service BI still apply.
I’d break self-service BI into two elements; authoring report content and selecting and assembling the information that is appropriate for the individual. Firstly, for anyone to create their own reports, the tool has to be straightforward to use with easy access to the data from the business software. The BI solution needs to be tightly integrated with the ERP and the appropriate fields of information readily available and ‘modelled’ for the end user to quickly access. Secondly, as each function in the business has different objectives to monitor and meet, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to reporting content isn’t going to be sufficient. Business information has to be readily available and directly pertinent and timely to the end user. A self-assembly workspace is the ideal environment for the non-technical business user to collate their reports, KPIs, charts and graphs so they can quickly analyse the metrics they need to keep on track. Ideally there will be a collection of pre-built KPIs and other reporting content available so IT or users do not need to invest a lot of time getting up and running.
I’ve also found that senior execs like to be overly protective of information. Of course, there is always going to be sensitive or financial data that needs kept to the business managers, however, if an employee doesn’t have the tools and information available to do their job effectively, how can a manager expect them to perform to target? The important point to convey here is that BI comes in all shapes and sizes, and what is necessary for one person isn’t necessarily the same for the next. The reporting framework needs to be built with this in mind, ensuring all users gain quick and easy access to the information necessary for them to do their job. No longer should BI be only for the privileged few – it just doesn’t foster a collaborative and efficient workforce.
Stay tuned for my next blog, where I’ll describe a practical example where self-service BI can be applied to deliver a more empowered workforce, facilitate better decision making and improve the operations of any company large or small. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear what your experience of self-service BI has been– did it work, or did it fail? What insights can you share?
Presenting at CeBIT Australia 2012