How Self-Service BI Empowers Workers with More Control and Faster Access

Apr 1, 2014

There is an increasing awareness in today’s economic environment of the power of data analytics.

With business needs shifting every day, organizations must remain agile and maintain the ability to make smarter, faster decisions. Because of this, business intelligence is becoming more important than ever.

The most successful organizations understand that one of their most valuable assets is their data; it is what gives them their competitive edge and allows them to discover new business opportunities.

But despite this awareness of the power of data, many organizations are still making decisions based on gut feeling, anecdotal evidence, intuition, and benchmarking – a perilous position.

As Marshall McLuhan said, “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

Much of this is because the current tools organizations are using aren’t up to meeting the demand for information and analytics.

For some organizations, there has been a heavy reliance on Excel and its ability to process and analyze small data sets. However, as we discussed last week, Excel has many inherent limitations that can severely hinder organizations.

In the past, to overcome these limitations, organizations implemented traditional BI systems which many are still using today.

These were fine when the demand for data was limited, but today’s information workers are demanding more data, more control and faster access to BI and business data.

And often it seems like IT is acting as a gatekeeper between them and the information they need.

The Waiting Game

Traditional BI is a long, painful cycle. IT spends months or even years building out dashboards and reports based on user requirements and when users get their hands on them, they immediately request changes. Then IT must spend even more weeks and months implementing them.

Once the system is finally in place, the flow of data moves slowly. Employees must wait days or weeks to get their hands on the reports and information they need. And if they want to explore the data further or ask more questions they are reliant on IT again.

It’s not that IT wants to keep these employees from the data, they are just chained to unwieldy and time consuming systems. Many departments have been stripped down to the barest numbers and the increased demand leaves them overwhelmed and everyone frustrated.

Information workers are increasingly dissatisfied with the prescriptive reports and dashboards handed down to them from IT.

There is a disconnect between the user and the data, often crippling decision-making capabilities.

This lack of system agility means that opportunities are often missed. Time and effort are at a premium and people can’t wait days or weeks for IT to generate costly reports that may or may not provide all the information they need.

Today’s organizations need speed, flexibility, user friendliness and the ability to generate knowledge quickly and accurately and distribute it anywhere without fuss or complexity.

Removing Distractions and Improving Performance with Self-Service BI

According to the Wisdom Crowds report, an annual survey of business intelligence users by BI specialist Howard Dresner, self-service BI has been among the top technology priorities for two years running.

Self-service BI systems, like QlikView, create an environment in which information workers can create and access specific sets of reports, queries and analytics themselves with little involvement by IT. They get real-time data and analysis precisely focused on the business problem they are trying to solve.

Information workers can create personalized reports and analytical queries, as well as share and collaborate on knowledge and analysis across individuals and groups within the organization.

Self-service BI systems overcome the distractions and limitations introduced by traditional BI systems which didn’t allow for speed, agility or ease of use. There is no longer a disconnect between BI and business analytics. Employees can jump in and start analyzing data without having to wait for IT to run complex reports.

Information workers are no longer limited to pre-defined paths they must follow, or questions that need to be formulated ahead of time, possibly causing them to miss out on crucial associations and insights.

They are free to ask and explore any way they want – up, down and sideways if need be; allowing them to do their work smarter and faster.

Self-service BI enables users to be self-sufficient, creating reports and accessing the information they need to solve problems and answer questions as fast as they can think them up. No wait time. No IT middle-men.

“This type of BI empowers everyone in the organization to get the information when they want it,” says Lucas Blancher, BizXcel BI Specialist. “It gives users the ability to start at a high level with a piece of information, have it speak to them and continue down a path with it, exploring what it means. It allows them to not only ask one question, but the next question and any other questions they have after that one. It’s very flexible.”

Easy to Use, Available Everywhere

Self-service BI systems are designed to be easy-to-use with most as intuitive as Google and Facebook. With the right training people are quickly able to start working with them to follow their own paths to solutions.

Analysis need not only take place on desktops in the office either. Most self-service BI systems are designed for mobile, so decisions can be made in the factory, on the retail floor, on the road with the sales person’s tablet or on the manager’s smartphone.

Easing the Burden on IT

No longer bogged down writing and re-writing reports, tweaking queries and building cubes, IT is free to concentrate on other tasks. They can remain focused on data security, data and application provisioning, data governance, and system maintenance.

Searching for Insight

As John Dryden said, “He who would search for pearls must dive below.” If organizations expect to be able to get the full value from their data and achieve a true competitive edge, they must allow information workers to access it and explore it fully in order to gain the insights they need. Self-service BI is a big step in this direction, allowing people to search deeper and in ways they couldn’t imagine before.