Although Self-Service BI is garnering much attention these days, it is not a new concept at all. As Rob Kerr discussed in his recent article titled Does Self-Service BI Work, what is new is that business users have more software capabilities at their disposal than ever before. Because of the proliferation of Self-Service BI tools such as Power Pivot, Power View, Power Query, and Power Map, business users have the software to be more self-sufficient with reports and analytics. However, we know from experience that it takes more than just software for Self-Service BI to be effective.
There’s no single correct methodology for implementing Self-Service BI. One way Self-Service BI typically gets started in an organization is via industrious business users who figure out a way to get things done. You could think of this as a grassroots evolution that’s occurring whether IT is aware of it or not. Awareness often heightens when a business user creates a solution that becomes increasingly critical to the business – and increasingly difficult to maintain and manage.
Another common way for Self-Service BI to get introduced to an organization is via IT. The IT leadership team may plan a formal initiative to introduce Self-Service BI for the purpose of reducing the IT backlog of report requests. There’s nothing wrong with this approach as long as there’s involvement from key business units, data stewards, and other important parties. Even if an IT-driven initiative is going on, it is highly likely that business users are also actively creating solutions that IT is not aware of. Whether or not IT awareness is an issue brings us to the element of culture.
To generalize, there are three types of cultures with Self-Service BI and which one emerges in your organization depends on what the organization values.
IT – Regulated Self-Service BI
This is sometimes referred to as Managed Self-Service BI, but the level of rigor can vary widely. Typically here the organization places high value in governance, standardization, security, reusability, and data quality. The environment is managed and overseen by IT or a BI Competency Center. A Managed Self-Service BI culture may be seen in companies with strict regulatory and compliance issues. A more managed environment may also be suitable in business units where users are not expected to be technically savvy. Downsides to this approach may include slower speed of delivery, and lack of cooperation between business and IT. Mandates on which data sources and BI tools are authorized to be used may not be well-received by the user population, thus potentially impacting the level of cooperation.
Business-Self-Reliant Self-Service BI
Here the value is placed on data exploration and the agile discovery of information. The freedom and flexibility of users’ organic BI efforts is valued over standardization and governance. This type of culture is more common in business units with very technically savvy business users such as actuaries, or when the IT budget is insufficient to support self-service efforts. Downsides to this approach may include data quality and security of data. There may also be a lack of infrastructure expertise to handle self-service query loads, data movement processes, and proficiency handling performance tuning and system growth. Data modeling expertise is also a frequent challenge, as discussed in a recent article by Javier Guillén titled What Makes a Self-Service Business Analytics Strategy Successful?
IT-Business Partnership in Self-Service BI
A partnership is necessary to achieve the ideal balance between IT-Regulated and Business-Self-Reliant Self-Service BI – but no one ever said it was easy. Formulating a balance between governance and flexibility that everyone understands and respects can be a difficult, but worthy, undertaking. IT can be a big help with things such as security, infrastructure, testing, and validation. The business users with subject matter expertise can teach IT what they need and why. Depending on the choices made to best meet all needs, there will still be downsides and there will be compromises, but these will be conscious decisions that you can live with and strive to mitigate.
A Self-Service BI culture that is actively cultivated, or organically emerges, will likely differ within a company among organizational boundaries or business units. Different approaches can be used simultaneously, and the culture can evolve over time as needs, priorities, and abilities change. With support from executives as well as evangelists and influencers, devising a Self-Service BI culture that is optimal for your organization can help you use data as a competitive advantage.
At BlueGranite, we assist business and technology leaders interested in crafting Self-Service Analytics and Reporting strategies. Our flexible approaches can support the initiative by targeting a wide range of supporting activities, from building data repositories specifically crafted for Power Pivot use, to end user training, mentoring, and adoption programs. Be sure to contact us if you are in the process of deciding which flavor of Self-Service Analytics is most appropriate for your organization.