Become a Data Rock Star!

By now, the benefits of using Business Intelligence (BI) by business organisations should be a foregone conclusion. Access to BI allows companies to formulate faster, smarter decisions providing a competitive edge and permitting them to discover new business opportunities. Many organisations are realising that their set of static, etched-in-stone reports may no longer provide the insight they were seeking. With business people demanding more dynamic and customisable reports that are easily and rapidly available, the pressure on traditional reporting and analytics methodologies is growing.

To meet this growing demand and reduce the time to get value, one approach involves setting up an environment in which information consumers can create and access their own sets of reports, queries and visual analytics themselves, with minimal intervention of IT specialists. This environment is what is being termed as Self-Service BI (SSBI).

SSBI aids information consumers become more self-sufficient by providing an environment that is easy to use and supplies information that is easy to consume. This principle is based on three main fundamentals: easy yet secure access to data source(s); easy-to-use BI tools; faster and easier deployment and sharing options such as on-the-cloud environments and mobile apps.

There are two main reasons as to why your organisation should start endorsing this principle by investing in a Self Service BI environment.

Shift your IT focus where it is really needed

One of the struggles that business users face is convincing an internal IT department to give priority to the development of a set of management reports. Traditional BI methods are renowned for the time and effort required. Disrupting the schedule of a team of developers to meet an urgent request for the creation of a report is usually met with some degree of resistance.

Similarly, an organisation without such a department might be hesitant to fork out money to have a set of simple reports developed for them. Usually budgets are established at the beginning of a year, so getting funds mid-year for an urgent set of analytical reports might prove to be challenging.

Unfortunately, due to such difficulties, business intelligence projects that offer valuable insight end up shelved for prolonged periods of time, if not forever. Inversely, self service capabilities in an SSBI platform would give business users what they wanted for years – more hands-on control over information they can access and use. IT can often step aside as the intermediary. Rather than constantly being pulled off projects to create a new report, IT resources can focus on more value-added activities. For example, they can concentrate on developing new applications, expanding data in the data warehouse from existing and new sources, and incorporating new technologies to improve performance. Business users move into a role that is more responsible for BI capabilities. IT moves into a role that better supports business needs. Both sides become respected partners in the organization. This directly leads to better satisfaction with BI and IT in general.

Constantly changing business needs

Having a pre-fabricated set of reports used to work perfectly well fifteen years ago, but not anymore! What used to happen back then was that these reports were accessed a limited number of times a year to gauge the financial performance of the organisations. With an ever more aggressive business scenario nowadays, businesses know perfectly that concrete (and possibly direction changing) decisions need to be taken more often. One cannot take such decisions if not backed up by a reliable source of information. If information requests cannot be satisfied fast enough, businesses risk losing out on competitiveness and cannot respond fast enough to shifting business scenarios. With minimal efforts, a Self Service BI platform can be set up to create an environment where the business community can select the BI components they need to assess the current business situation and then make the proper decisions. The implementers set up the infrastructure much like a buffet table where the business information consumers can then pick and choose from the full set of offerings and create their own combinations of analyses, reports, and data sets, based on their individual needs.

Embracing a SSBI Approach

“Yet, this ‘liberalization’ with SSBI would just be a myth, unless end-users are truly empowered in reality to analyse data and create analytic reports by themselves without turning to IT” said JY Pook, Asia-Pacific vice president at Tableau Software. For the second year in a row, Tableau has been placed as a leader in the 2014 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms. The main reason for this being that its family of software tools give users the data discovery power they have been yearning for.

Tableau leverages the fact that when data is presented in a variety of ways quickly, as decided by the user, new patterns start being recognised. It causes users to form new insights and new questions that need answering, and this freestyle process continues in real time as the “drill down” analysis goes on. The fact that users, based on their own needs and discretion, can see the data move in front of them as they slice and dice it, contrasts with traditional enterprise BI. Tableau can be used by business users from all walks of life; from clerks to executives to BI engineers. Having said so, it does not mean the resulting data analyses will be over simplified and hence paint an inaccurate picture. Tableau is meant to be an intuitive self-service BI tool and the more experience users have in working with data, the more refined and sophisticated their queries and insights become over time.

We often talk about ‘agile organisation’ which generally denotes those entities who can deliver a product cheaper and faster to the market than their respective competitors. However this term may have a second analogous meaning within today’s business environment; it has come to signify those companies that recognise a technological advantage they can exploit before their competitors. SSBI offers one such possibility; it may ease the traditional backlog upon the in-house IT department by ‘sharing’ out the potential of information discovery and analysis to the end-users who know, more than anyone else, what they require and how they require it. Who better to involve?

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