So what is a self-service BI? Many have read this phrase on a RFP and wondered….”what does this even mean?”

Have the top management executives suddenly decided, they want to build reports themselves? Or have they decided to spend more of their time on data analysis, charting, forecasting and building cool looking dashboards? Do they really want to be doing this? What will the IT department’s role be? What about the data analysts? Clearly top executives neither have the time nor the inclination for this!!

Well! Quite the opposite actually. Users want immediate access and control over data without having to rely on IT guys or even possess a certain level of programming skills. Several months long implementation and roll out schedules have become absolutely unacceptable.

A good Self-Service BI would typically use a “tool-kit” philosophy. Every report, charts, dashboards, carousels and spreadsheets you need are typically available as a simple drag and drop tool, which then automatically produces the desired data analysis with very minimal configuration or zero programming. These objects can be freely positioned on the screen with a simple drag & drop from the ribbon bar and interactively configured. They are immediately synchronised with each other and with the database and they automatically react to users’ actions – empowering information workers to create autonomously their own analysis and reporting applications.

This would mean, top executives can easily drag and drop required tools on to their own personalised screen (and even tablets) and very quickly gain insightful information on live data, without the need to rely on tech savvy IT guys. This comes in very handy especially when traveling or at board meetings where critical strategic decisions are made.

However there is definitely a misconception of what self-service really is. For eg: If you were to google self-service BI solutions, you would most likely find hundreds of sites offering self-service solutions. Most of these sites explain self-service to you from the software perspective, giving you a false expectation that the software is pure magic. Most executives carry this perception and make an investment only to be very disappointed, because the magic failed to deliver.

News Flash: There is no magic in the software industry. Garbage In, Garbage Out still is very much the norm.

Self-Service is cool, very cool….but just one part of the total solution. Self-Service is not a solution you buy and expect to work wonders. Just as the name suggest, self-service is just that. “Self-Service”!!! Which calls for discipline. If you don’t self-serve, you get no results. It’s just like people who continue paying the gym monthly fees, but never actually GO to the gym for a workout except maybe twice or thrice a year. Wouldn’t it be funny if they then complained that the gym doesn’t work?? Well! So it is with self-service BI when executives invest in it, but don’t self-serve.

Why Self-Service

Before you buy a self-service BI tool, it is important to seek advise and guidance from experts to ensure there is appropriate return on investment. Ideally, a BI implementation should not take more than a month or two, but I’ve heard of implementations that go on for almost a year and even more. Sometimes two years. Such lengthy implementation processes defeat the whole purpose of a BI roll out.

BI is supposed to give you an in-depth analysis of live data in the shortest possible time, so as to help you make strategic decisions quickly that can change the course of your business. If the roll out itself is going to take more than a year, you have already lost precious time and most probably many opportunities.

The introduction of Self-Service has greatly reduced the roll out time. With the reduced need for complicated programming and setup, the BI solution can quickly be installed and users can be trained for self service. This shouldn’t take more than a month or maximum two.

Thereafter, users can simply drag and drop different objects on to their own screens, build their own reports, charts and dashboards in less than a fraction of the time it otherwise took without a self-service toolkit. Top executives now can choose to create their own reports and dashboards or alternatively delegate the job and still get back results almost instantaneously.

In comparison to traditional BI implementations that take a year or two, you can now see why Self-Service BI is becoming popular. The TCO of a self-service BI tool is far lesser than a traditional BI solution and delivers far better results.

In conclusion, is 2015 going to be a year of Self-Service BI? I think it sure is.

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Santosh Chandran is the Business Development Manager for BOARD Management Intelligence at Olympic Software. He regularly blogs about business intelligence and corporate performance management. You can follow him on Twitter  or on LinkedIn.  Please contact him directly if you would like to find out how BOARD can improve your business results through better decision making, phone 09 980 3964 or email: santoshc@olympic.co.nz