“The War on self-service BI” – a response
Mark Cooper (that’s his avatar on the left) posted a great article on the SAP Community Network (SCN) earlier in the week.
The title “the war on self-service” immediately drew me in as I have long advocated that self-service BI (in all its forms) is probably the biggest inhibitor to the wider adoption of BI in our organizations.
I was not disappointed. Mark summarizes the problem beautifully:
“The most commonly attempted [self-service] scenario in BI projects is … the one that I commonly see fail because the project tries to reduce reliance on IT and enable the business to do their own reporting”
Bingo! In a sentence, this is the reason we have had with too much BI shelfware and too little BI adoption for the last 15-20 years.
To explain, there are two issues:
1) Self-service BI means very different things to different people
Mark lists 4 “levels” of self-service BI:
Level 1: IT delivers reports and users can save variants for themselves
Level 2: IT delivers reports and users can save variants for themselves and others
Level 3: IT delivers BI infrastructure, users build their own BI content
Level 4: IT delivers infrastructure for users to mash-up data and create their own BI
(I have abbreviated a little, but hopefully true to Mark’s intent)
I have not spoken to Mark about this, but I bet that you could also describe this as:
Levels 1 and 2: custom, interactive BI content delivered to end-users allowing typical operations of drill-down, drill-across, filter, sort and maybe pivot
Level 3: end-users being forced to use analyst tools in a misguided attempt to save money or give the users a better service
Level 4: analyst tools being used by analysts
(In all the above by “analyst tools” I am talking about ad-hoc query, data-discovery, predictive analysis tools)
2) Level 3 is the one which fails most
When laid out like this, it seems pretty obvious that Level 3 will fail most of the time, just like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, it is a triumph of hope over experience. Mark goes on to explain what many BI project managers have found out to their cost:
“the business simply doesn’t typically have the resources to create reports from scratch, even in Web Intelligence, let alone build their own semantic layers”
But I hear you cry, Web Intelligence is an old tool, there are now better ones which fix that. To that I would just quote Mark again:
“we deploy Tableau but for a complex supply chain diagnostic tool and it is very definitely IT delivered with no element of self-service attached. However Tableau keep telling us (and the business!) that users should be creating their own visualisations by creating their own semantic layers. I, er, disagree strongly but I am open to being convinced.”
I believe Mark is spot on, I am fairly sure that for the time being (i.e. many years to come) there is a fundamental truth about BI tools, which goes something like this:
“If a BI tool is sophisticated enough to create content which will satisfy your end users, then it is too complex for them to use to generate their own content from scratch”
Not because end-users are not capable enough, but because they do not have the time, should not really have the inclination and ultimately have better things to do with their time than creating BI content (of any sort). BI is for end-users to use, not create. Period.
Interestingly Mark says his execs have come up with another level of self-service BI:
“When we asked our execs what they expected from ‘self-service’ they replied: ‘Instead of having to ask an assistant, or somebody in an end market, to run a report for me, I want the rights to access BI and get the report myself, when I want it’. So, from the point of view of the business, just having access to BI and the ability to run the report themselves is ‘self-service’.”
Sounds a lot like what I describe as GIGWYNGOGO, BI which allows you to “get in, get what you need, get out and get on” as quickly as possible.
If you want to succeed in BI, to increase BI adoption, reduce BI shelfware, and drive up BI value then steer clear of level 3 and stop forcing your end users to use inappropriate BI tools.
For more information of this see our eBook: “Why self-service BI fails and dashboards are the answer”.
BTW The clue as to why this is posted in the Dashboards area is in the title of the eBook above (i.e. they are the answer to this problem)