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The 7 virtues of self-service BI

As long as I’ve been in BI I heard two things:


  1. Spreadsheets are bad
  2. The holy grail of reporting is self-service BI


So why is it that these two topics always come up in discussions and how are they related?

Spreadsheets are bad

Well this one is easy right? We need to have a single version of the truth in our company and having different spreadsheets with different truths doesn’t help. Now at lower management one might still get away with having some figures which don’t totally match your neighbors figures at the meeting table, but it becomes a different ballgame when we need 100% correct figures for decisionmaking. Think of that customer we should or should not let go based on the margin information in our data warehouse. Now the misperception often is that these companies do not have a sophisticated data warehouse, but just some massive collection of files, scatttered all over the place. The truth is often different. These companies do have a sophisticated data warehouse and they do have a single version of the truth. What they often lack however is the power of flexibility (call it agility if you want) and the power to fulfill the ever growing demand of new information needs. Put in that people still believe that reporting should always look spot on and we have a challenge of keeping up with demand. IT with all best intentions simply cannot cope with the ever changing request for new insights. Those companies that come to the conclusion that it does not always matters how the information physically looks, but that the content and speed is more important, have a case to change for the better. Here self-service BI enters the equation.

Self-service BI

So you have a multi million Euro data warehouse, a mature IT department and all the change request procedures in place to keep the stability you invested in, but you lack speed. Speed of execution that is, speed of data is handled by SAP HANA Developer Access Beta program – get the best out of your test-drive! nowadays so one less concern. Speed of execution is what is needed to keep up with increased demands on time to information (TTI). I don’t have to explain why it is important to have this high on the agenda in these troublesome times. So how do we cut back on TTI? We give control to our end-users. BI less controlled by IT, et voila, we have gained speed. Well, on paper that is. The reality is different. Not only do companies get trapped in new layers of complexity by self-service reports which do not match the raw figures, they often also get hundreds of new reports which cannot be supported. Not by IT and not by the end-users. So is there a way out of this? There sure is. The 7 virtues of self-service BI.

The 7 virtues of self-service BI

  1. Its number 1 for a reason: one size does not fit all. Only give full control to users who fully understand the figures, who are tech savvy enough and really require full control. Getting rights to filter and create your own calculated measures is not for everyone in the company. Going from spreadsheet misery to the self-service equivalent is a very small step. People who do not need full control can still create there own ad-hoc reports, but are restricted to only use predefined characteristics and key figures.
  2. Self-service BI does not mean there is no standardized and harmonized reporting. Reports which are required in regular weekly/monthly meetings and have the same data scope should be fixed. If decisions are based on them they should be made out of stone.
  3. Control your flood of reports. Measure how often reports are used. If not run often, archive them. Full stop, no discussion.
  4. Check the type of analysis done. If a certain data slice or report is often requested and no standard report is available, it’s time to create one.
  5. Promote self-service BI reports to standard report when often used and shared. Statistics help to determine this.
  6. Use great, easy to use, fun tools, but don’t promise they’ll solve all problems and fulfill all requirements. BusinessObjects Web Intelligence for sure is a great tool, but be clear on where the power of it is. Easy to use and the ability to create Mobile content in a flash is an absolute winner. That said, Mobile BI – quickly create some eye-candy is often a great way to increase usage of reports. Reporting on an iPad remains magical.
  7. Self-service BI does not mean we can cut out the IT department. Supporting the end-user will still take a fair amount of time and let’s not forget where the focus of IT should be: creating that trustful data set and to keep it available at all times.

Thanks for reading this blog, live by your virtues and stay in touch!


1 Comment
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  • Hello Ronald, I came across your blog while looking for BI blogs. I have to say in my years of experience as a BW/BI consultant, what you have mentioned rings very true.

    Looking forward to your next blog post for an interesting read! 🙂