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By Cindi Howson
of Self-Service BI
© 2011 BI Scorecard
analytic power. contributing expert to Information Week and the B-EYE Network. and insight. The result is unprecedented visibility. unanticipated questions. ” 1 . Business users will be empowered. increased revenues. an innovative BI platform. She has been advising clients on BI tool strategies and selections for 15 years. that prevent self-service BI from being realized.About the Author CINDI HOWSON is the founder of BI Scorecard®. Prior to founding BI Scorecard®. Howson was a manager at Deloitte & Touche and a BI standards leader for a Fortune 500 company. analytic application and the freedom to explore the information in an unconstrained and intuitive manner using search and interactive visualizations. business professionals gain access to all the information they need in a powerful. Instead of self-service BI bringing greater business-IT partnership. self-service BI an “The vision forprovide businessisusers with enticing one: direct access to all the data they need to make critical business decisions. based on exclusive handson testing. She is a TDWI (The Data Warehousing Institute) faculty member. there are several myths. She is the author of Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App and Business Objects XI: The Complete Reference. IT. thinking that’s all it takes for self-service BI. About the Sponsor Endeca is a search and business intelligence software company that improves daily decisions for employees and purchase decisions for customers. exposes power users to all possible elements in the data warehouse. Self-service BI is a worthy vision. IT will be an enabler. With Endeca Latitude. Gut-feel decision-making will be replaced with fact-based decisions that are more aligned with the goals of the business. rather than a gate keeper and hindrance to business intelligence. She can be reached at cindihowson@biscorecard. She has an MBA from Rice University. This new model for information access and analytics has made even the world’s most advanced enterprises more responsive and has brought them hundreds of millions of dollars in decreased costs. Reality is harshly different. Too often companies deploy an ad hoc or business query tool. IT professionals gain the power to bring together diverse data with ease and remarkable speed – resulting in better alignment with the business and a more agile IT organization. however. is a new type of business intelligence (BI) software that enables the self-service exploration of diverse and changing data and guides business professionals to answers for new. It’s the myths that need dispelling for a more successful and realistic journey to self-service business intelligence.com Self-Service BI: The Vision The vision for self-service BI is an enticing one: provide business users with direct access to all the data they need to make critical business decisions. That’s the vision. not wanting to omit any critical business element. the relationship further disintegrates as IT washes its hands of anything business users create on their own. burned in the past by their apparent lack of responsiveness. Endeca Latitude. yet simple-to-use. and improved productivity. Users move from frustration at not being able to get to their data to now being overwhelmed by the number of data choices. a resource for in-depth BI product reviews.
This is an unrealistic goal for anyone but power users. and BI Search. Suppliers & Regula tome tors Cus Line Workers Front- Dashboards s & Manag cutive ers Exe Information W ts & ork ys al veloper De s IT Statisticians BI Search s er An Business Query Commonly Used Specialist Feature Complexity Commonly Used Figure 1: There are different segments of potential BI users. such as dashboards. Interactive dashboards are more ideal when managers are monitoring several business areas and looking for patterns and problem areas when KPIs are below target. Reality Check: 4 Recognize that only a fraction of business users are authors. there is a range of user types and corresponding requirements. They can author their own queries without having to know SQL. These user types may have advanced skills to write their own SQL or MDX queries. however. users still must know: • Data nuances: the difference between gross sales vs. sales net of returns. Managers and executives need fast access to data to answer sometimes unpredictable questions. rs. even when the BI tool does not require a user to know SQL or MDX. A dashboard is most different from a report or query in that it displays information from multiple data sources. As the following figure depicts. They may want to extract and combine data from multiple data sources on the fly as new business questions arise. interactive reports. whether managers (for strategic and tactical decisions) or front-line workers (for operational decisions). Dashboards are ideal for executives. it’s helpful to know. when a certain query will return a large data set. but not if the product was on sale). roles. data. pre-built report may be more suitable when executives are investigating one particular management area. They certainly don’t want to start with a blank screen with a list of 100s of data elements from which to choose. sold-to-customer. The Five Myths of Self-Service BI • 2 . warranting distinct user interfaces and capabilities. In the next band are the business analysts and information workers. • Database concepts: to author efficient queries. The business query tool shields them from the underlying complexities of the physical schema in the data warehouse and source systems. and front-line workers. Different job levels. interactive way. 4 Other classes of users may require a different BI tool interface and information delivery mechanism. Self-service BI has become synonymous with the expectation that business users can and want to create their own queries from scratch. perhaps only needing a simple filter or sort option within a report. thus avoiding the IT bottleneck. Their requirements for self-service BI are vastly different from power users’ requirements. which elements are ideal for filtering to give the correct response time. and IT literacy require distinct BI capabilities. a larger portion of potential BI users are information consumers. However. they typically support decision-makers. At the core of the spectrum are the more sophisticated users: statisticians and IT developers. Instead. customers. BI Search serves the broadest range of users. 4 Only power users with requisite skills will create their own queries and reports using traditional ad hoc or business query tools. • SQL or MDX concepts: While power users may not write their own SQL or MDX. having a basic understanding of these query languages will help in authoring more sophisticated business questions that use things like a HAVING clause (sales greater than N). business analysts and information workers are only part of the user spectrum and are often not the decisionmakers. Even further out on the spectrum. For users to create their own queries in an ad hoc or business query tool.Myth 1: Business users will create their own queries. Business query tools are ideal for power users and are the traditional view of self-service BI. but they lack the skills and time to use advanced authoring tools. This is the sweet spot for traditional business query tools. managers. responsibilities. front-line workers. often in a more graphical. or how to nest AND/OR clauses (states where product A sold. These outer spectrums of users have different requirements for how they want to access and interact with the data. and suppliers will have more routine requirements. INTERSECT (customers who bought both products A and B). ship-to-customer vs. Instead. because data access and analysis is a large component of their jobs. an interactive.
even casual users will embrace BI. a user simply enters key words such as “Sales in New York 2010. and greater attention to visual appeal. Some innovations that bring greater ease of use are the concepts of BI Search. In a recent survey BI Scorecard conducted on ease of use of BI tools. Results are displayed in such a way that the business user can progressively filter through relevant information by various attributes and dimensions. “BI Search takes the simplicity of Google and applies it to business intelligence. If an existing dashboard or report is not available. BI Search takes the simplicity of Google and applies it to business intelligence. both casual and power users. It is particularly important when a company is trying to change old decision-making patterns. whether relying only on experts to use BI or moving from a culture of gut-feel to fact-based decisions. but more so for new classes of users whose jobs are not predominantly spent accessing and analyzing data. ” 3 . As shown in the earlier spectrum. These interfaces may or may not come from the same vendor. The only software rated harder to use and learn was the transaction system. Moving BI beyond the realm of power users to more casual users may require a different BI tool interface. Ease of use is not to be underestimated in the journey to self-service BI. More robust tools will search database content. BI Search serves the needs of a broad range of users. 4 Ease of use is important for all BI users. respondents identified BI tools as one of the hardest category of office tools to use. It is a different way of accessing data by visually filtering out what is not necessary and honing in on the most relevant subset of information. Rather than users dragging and dropping database elements onto a page to build a query. The report or dashboard may automatically be personalized with content related to their area of responsibility. progressive filtering. proactive alerting to notify decision-makers of problem areas.” BI tools that leverage this capability will at the very least search meta data on existing reports and dashboards. Other approaches include leveraging the familiarity of Microsoft Office interfaces such as Outlook.Myth 2: BI is so easy to use. 4 Newer interfaces such as BI Search provide greater ease of use than traditional interfaces. then the tool may also use the search key words to generate a new query. ideally suited for the user and task at hand. Reality Check: 4 A robust BI tool portfolio is made up of multiple BI interfaces. instead. and personalization.
” Users often ask for direct access to corporate data. not the BI environment. Further. The problem. flexibleyet-manageable business view. and so on. and benchmark data for their delivery performance with other suppliers. Ease of use as discussed in Myth 2 is even more important for customers and suppliers. Instead. Reality Check: 4 Recognize that even when a company has an enterprise data warehouse. because they have been frustrated by slow response times from IT. While newer versions of BI tools may allow for federated data access via a business view. or personal data sources. It is rarely a business query tool with broad access to corporate data. 4 Consider the insights and decisions customers and suppliers make when engaging with your company. 4 When data needs to be routinely combined from multiple data sources. whether in the data warehouse. All of these examples reflect unmet needs that self-service BI can fill. but then can interact with a self-contained snapshot of information are one way to deliver self-service BI. relevant source. most BI tools use a business meta data layer so that users have a friendly. usually the business view connects only to enterprise-wide data sources and not departmental data. and so on are left out of the data warehouse. First. A simple change request to a report may take months for IT to deliver. stock levels. in embracing these outer spectrums of the user segments. organizational issues of control. users can’t access it. business users ask for access to everything. Often. The right interface for these users is one that requires no training. supplier data. Without an alternative. responsibility. The Five Myths of Self-Service BI • 4 . Organizational issues about who controls the business view must be addressed to allow the business access to all data. If the data exists in the data warehouse but it’s not exposed via the business view. though. Rich reportlets in which a user accesses a fixed report. While much of the initial efforts to deploy self-service BI centers around internal power users. order fulfillment times. lack of a holistic approach to distributed data sources undermines the vision of a single version of the truth. because central IT often controls the business view. the business view is a subset of all the information in the data warehouse. • A retail customer purchasing apparel who wants to see sizing for past orders. one that customers will increasingly demand. These user segments can’t justify the time to learn an interface and certainly may not have access to BI training. line-of-business data and external data sources such as advertising promotions. Reality Check: 4 Self-service BI is not only for internal users. it is even more critical to consider the appropriateness of the interface. Trying to avoid round trips to IT. and commonality typically result in the business view being relevant only for enterprise data. business view of information in the data warehouse. the vision for selfservice BI should encompass customers and suppliers as well. Faceted search as discussed in the previous section is yet another way. access should be facilitated by the BI team. Manual. • A supplier who wants to view past fulfillment history. Not wanting business users to learn SQL. Myth 4: “I will have access to all my data. IT is still trying to anticipate all the questions users may want to pose. Further. In designing this business view. customers may want to view only their purchases. data marts. is in defining a business-focused. market prices. This workflow again puts all the knowledge and information in the hands of a few experts.Myth 3: Self-Service BI is only for internal users. This level of service and information is a big competitive differentiator. The business view is a powerful way to hide the physical complexities of the database from end users. product catalogs. users are forced to export data from the BI tool into a spreadsheet to be able to merge data from different data sources. IT will provide access to as much data as possible without violating any security issues. However. Consider the following examples: • A utility customer accessing a bill who then wants to compare consumption from this month versus the prior months … and then compare trends with external data such as average temperatures. services consumed. error-prone export and join processes are forced on power users. critical data exists outside the warehouse. Look for opportunities to provide them easy access to data to support their decision-making. even if that’s not what they really need. The owner of the spreadsheet becomes the trusted. sabotaging broad adoption of self-service BI. The important point here is in recognizing the potential for BI applications beyond corporate boundaries.
meanwhile. Each side needs to value the distinct skills. in fact. then waits months for IT to build something useful. but IT will continue to quality assure and provide guidance on usage. new subject areas. Business intelligence allows people at all levels of an organization to access. IT should continue to review these reports for usage and optimization. but the reality today is that BI is often limited to internal power users in many companies. Self-service BI can speed the time to value. Instead of IT feeling threatened by business intelligence. ideally suited for the user and task at hand. Like the yin-yang symbol. business authors handle the more routine queries. business power users may take ownership of this business view of the data. Reality Check: 4 A robust BI tool portfolio is made up of multiple BI interfaces. What actions will you take to make the vision a reality? 5 . IT may be responsible for authoring fixed reports. throws them over the fence. Business users are often rewarded for risk taking. and dashboards are often designed by business power users. and new capabilities often outpaces the ability to deliver. time to value. showing double-digit growth from 2009 to 2010. business and IT must work together. A corollary to this myth is that IT will have less to do once self-service BI is implemented. and operate efficiently. Standard reports. Over time. However. and objectives of the other. defining the presentation layer. 4 Newer interfaces such as BI Search provide greater ease of use than traditional interfaces. is often rewarded only on cost containment and system reliability. Responsibilities may also shift from IT authoring everything to IT now authoring only the more complicated reports and dashboards. business intelligence continues to be one of the hottest growth areas. interact with. work styles. Usually. conflict increases and report chaos may ensue. Teams with personnel from both the business and IT establish and refine requirements through prototypes. and use skill sets more appropriately. The role of IT should shift from one of gatekeeper to mentor.Myth 5: “I will have access to all my data. reviewed in face-to-face work sessions. and achievement of business goals. When IT refuses to support anything authored by a business power user. IT no longer builds fixed reports. Conclusion Business intelligence is a must-have capability for companies of all sizes and across all industries. rarely on contribution to the business goals. and performance enhancements. Success breeds success in business intelligence: if your company successfully implements self-service BI. defines the initial business meta data layer. business and IT bring different but complementary perspectives to business intelligence. and analyze data to manage the business. With agile development. the demand for new applications. These interfaces may or may not come from the same vendor. the business documents their requirements. but instead. the lack of the business-IT partnership is an often-cited reason for failure and less impactful BI. This is the vision. and programming the interactions. 4 Ease of use is important for all BI users. of all the software segments. Many companies are turning to agile development for BI projects.” In multiple surveys on BI success rates. one-off requests. Business intelligence demands a much more collaborative approach than traditional systems development. capabilities are delivered in faster increments. focus efforts on the highest value applications. but collaboration. but more so for new classes of users whose jobs are not predominantly spent accessing and analyzing data. Self-service business intelligence empowers the decision-makers to ask and answer their own questions. best practices. IT is not less relevant with self-service BI. and both sides need to be a more proactive partner for success. BI requires constant prioritization and assessment for how new deliverables align with business goals. Both business’ and IT’s roles may change. IT. With self-service BI. In traditional systems and early decision support systems. with minimal support from IT. the requirements have changed by the time IT delivers something. For some long-time custom report developers. increases. discover opportunities. there may be job security issues that make the vision of self-service BI unappealing. improve performance. In order to succeed with business intelligence. it should be viewed as an opportunity to retool and to become more vital.
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