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Is “Self-Service” A Myth?

Nowadays, “Self-Service” is becoming a buzz word and everyone is talking about it. You will hear that in every project meeting that you go to. But is it a myth?

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. In a perfect world, it is a fantastic idea to let the business users build their own reports to derive their own analysis. However, we often run into the problem that the business users are either not technically savvy enough or they simply do not want to do it.

People love their comfort zones. It is extremely difficult to “teach an old dog a new trick”. If you tell them to leave their Excel spreadsheet behind and do all their analysis on a reporting tool, you can almost see the blood running out of their veins.

Yes, you can show them a hundred times on how to do it, and demonstrate a thousand times on how easy it is and how wonderful it can be, but will they actually do it on their own is another story.

Very often, after you spent countless hours teaching the business users on how to use Web Intelligence and how to build a report by simply dragging and dropping the objects that they need, at the end of the day, they will ask you how to export the query result into Excel.

Business users love to ask report developers to build them data dump in Web Intelligence and Crystal Report. Then they can export the query result and plug it into an Excel model that they built for analysis. Basically, the business users are using a tool that costs their employers millions of dollars for simple data extraction….something that they can do with TOAD that costs only a few hundred dollars, or simply by writing a few lines of VBA codes which is available in Excel at no additional cost. So what’s wrong with this picture?

It is not impossible to change the mindset of the business users. But don’t expect the business users to jump out of their chairs to embrace it wholeheartedly right away. It can be a long, repetitive, running-around-in-a-circle, and aggravating process. Not until the business users truly understand the value of “Self-Service”, and not until the business users bear the open mind and willing to leave their “comfort zones” to learn a new “trick”, “Self-Service” might remain a myth.



In response to Vijay’s comment, data is another huge challenge to “Self-Service BI”. Typically, Data Warehouse is not built for “Self-Service”. With the huge amount of data, we are having problem on aggregation. The BI 4.0 Semantic Layer with multi-sources capability + HANA will be the perfect solution. In the business world, being able to do “real-time” analytics is GOLD (it is more so in the retail industry). But the “price tag” of HANA can give customers a moment of pause. The challenge is to convince the customers that it is a good investment in the long run. Perhaps we need an “entry-level HANA” to help customers’ adaptation?

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  • Yes, completely agreed on the frustration in getting business users to use the tools correctly. I have lived through this many a time.

    But traditional BI tools almost never gave the analysts the flexibility and real time data they needed. With HANA agile datamarts, I think these folks will have a field day analyzing data any which way they want.

    • Agree. With the huge volume of data, we are running into big problem on aggregation. HANA will definitely solve the problem. But very often, the response of the business users is “what? another tool?” And the “sticker price” of HANA is not helping the cause 😉 . In retail, having the capability to do “real-time” analysis is GOLD! The hardest part is to get the business users to “buy in”. 🙂
  • I’ve seen this behaviour before. I think it’s where a good Change Management strategy and well thought out processes are imperative for the business.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Totally agree with you Simon. Here we try to build the best solution per the given requirements that gets dumped into a 10 tab excel with other data churned through an access database to ‘create’ a KPI report. It is a bit painful when the users have more faith in manually typed ‘dashboards’ rather than simple BI outputs, and when you see the number of hours put in each week/month to do all this you really want to jump in and make everyone’s life easy…but you can help only if they want to help themselves 🙂
  • Hi Simon,
    Excellent question and elaboration on the topic. Thanks to you and others for sharing thoughts on this. I originally thought about ad-hoc reporting, but there is defintiely more to changing business user behaviour and expectations (as our fellow members have commented here to your blog). I’ve started a thread in the “Business Decision Making with BI” forum to continue the conversation Please feel free to add your thoughts there as well. “I need to export this to Excel!”
  • Simon,
    I beg to disgaree… of course, you  are right in your description of (quite universal) behaviour in face of change. But I can’t agree with  the goals that you seem to propose : data  self-service for all ?? Is this really what will improve efficiency and clarity in  the enterprise? MY blood runs out of my veins when I think of the wasted time and effort in having every employee running queries in every direction… I guess you know my answer: what we see working  is to empower at community level   – usually through  key users that will produce  reports targeted for their “consumers”colleagues. This works because
    1) you will use the employees that have the mindset,  bandwith -and mission – for change
    2) this community will share the same data.If so, what’s wrong if the report consumers use Excel to change their views of the data ? How is that different from shifting columns in the BEX or a Webi report ? (btw, I am a  BEX fan). It becomes a matter of micro-management.

    To push it, I find it actually sane that people stay in their confort zones and use the tools that suit them…

  • Investment in to training happens when companies engage a problem such as safety.  I have been to numerous safety training sessions, and more than the usual mandatory annual safety training, since we had a income loss related safety incident.

    Should we wait for an incident? 

    Like wise in order to change the mentality and reinforce the efficiency of users, which in fact is a business safety issue (another topic all together and coincidentally similar) we need repetitive training, a sort of brain washing and even performance related goals associated with user efficiency.

    The question is, what companies can stand up to the plate and delivery?