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Self-Service BI has offered a wonderful promise over the years, yet its potential has only been partially realized at best.  Now the game is changing with new technologies and analytics platforms that are readily accessible to, and usable by, businesses of all sizes, shapes, and industries.

A surprisingly large topic, Self-Service BI requires some creative thinking. So I am going to start with three simple metaphors:

1. To start, imagine you are asked to draw a dog. The artists among us might opt for a specific kind of dog -- a Border Collie sitting on a hill perhaps, or a cartoon dog wearing a top hat & coattails. The less artistically inclined (myself included) might produce a circle with two ears (really just triangles), a stick for the body, a couple of appendages, and a tail. 

And now imagine you are told after the fact that you were expected to draw a photo-realistic dog on a beach chasing a crab and if your drawing is not an exact match, it is wrong.

2. Next, imagine a pile of nicely grained, oak hardwood lumber. In your hands, you have a book that details the ins & outs of wood working, along with general instructions on how to make a bookshelf. You have access to a table saw, a jig saw, a planer, a joiner, plus screws, nails, wood glue, 5 kinds of sand paper, and a host of other tools.

Your success will be determined by how well you use the variety of tools to design and build a solid, well-crafted bookshelf. If you are an experienced woodworker, then this is a breeze. How do the rest of you feel?

3. And finally, picture a pile of Lincoln Logs. Imagine you are asked to build a house out of those Lincoln Logs. You are given instruction on how best to build with them, and you are given time to practice and to get the general gist of laying them crosswise over each other. You can test the limits of how tall you can go, and how long a run is possible.

The primary criteria for success is that the structure has to stand by itself.

Across all three examples, which of them has the highest likelihood of successful completion by the highest percentage of people? You might be an artist or a woodworker, but not many people can make that same claim. Averaged out over a crowd, the Lincoln Logs win every time.

Now, the applicability of my examples to Self-Service BI might seem obvious to some of you, and not to others, so I will walk through each one. First, I am going to offer a couple of definitions of Self-Service BI.

Gartner defines Self-Service Business Intelligence as “end users designing and deploying their own reports and analyses within an approved and supported architecture and tools portfolio.”

Techopedia says “[SSBI] is a relatively new approach to business intelligence that allows less tech-savvy end users to perform data analytics on their own, rather than relying on skilled and experienced professional teams.”

Both are pretty good definitions. The first focuses on the tools, while the second focuses on the proficiency of the end users.  I think the right definition should combine the tools and the users and go something like this:

Self-Service BI is an analytics framework that empowers end-users to transparently generate actionable intelligence with simple & easy to use tools, training, organizational guidance & support.

This takes me back to my examples. In the first scenario where you are asked to draw a dog, success is dependent on having a certain amount of skill and on being able to guess the desired outcome without being told it in advance. In the second example, you are told what to create, but are asked to use complex tools that require a certain level of mastery to produce the desired outcome. It is not until the third example that we see the keys to SSBI success, where the tools are simple, there is sufficient training, and the steps to achieve success are understandable, replicable, and not dependent on highly specialized skills.

Keys to SSBI Success = Simple Tools + Sufficient Training + Replicable Steps

And to close the loop, think back to the original thesis statement.  Experience has shown that organizations are hesitant to go down the Self-Service BI route for a few reasons. It can be hard to understand and to quantify the value derived from such an effort. Organizations don’t have access to the right reporting, BI, and analytics tools to make the effort successful. And without a combination of expertise in training, analytics, change-management, and organizational effectiveness, most organizations do not have the horse power to make such an effort work.  And the caveat? Self-Service BI is NEVER turn-key. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution.

SSBI should drive actionable intelligence throughout an organization, but to do so, there must first be groundwork that is laid based on an organization’s culture, technology, and history.

Stay tuned for my next post, when I’ll dive into ways you can lay the groundwork for SSBI in your organization.

Categories: Business Intelligence