Many organisations take a supplier/consumer approach to BI. A BI team, often part of the IT department, maintains a backlog of dashboard/report requests from the business and delivers on these. Access to the enterprise data warehouse (EDW) and reporting tools is limited to a few BI professionals.
Whilst there are some benefits to this approach, BI teams often struggle to keep up with the pace of change in the business. When this happens, business users begin to take matters into their own hands, often by exporting report data into Excel and Access for further analysis. This can lead to a proliferation of ungoverned datasets and reporting throughout the organisation. At its worst, instead of data supporting decision making, conversations during meetings focus on whether the data is correct, rather than focusing on the insight the data can provide. Trust in the data is eroded. Often, a single team member will unknowingly become responsible for producing mission-critical reports using undocumented processes creating huge headaches when these team members are unexpectedly out of the office.
Another challenge with the centralised BI team approach is that organisations often end up with a catalogue of hundreds of reports, leading to duplication and periodic consolidation exercises.
Self-service BI emerged to address these problems and one of the leading self-service BI tools available in the market today is Microsoft Power BI. A key challenge in the implementation of self-service BI is convincing the BI team that this is a win-win situation for both business and IT. BI teams are sceptical that business users can learn the skills and that the additional flexibility that self-service BI brings comes at the expense of governance. Whilst it is true that most business users will remain BI content consumers there are always people in every team that have a deep understanding of organisational data and can pick up self-service BI skills.
Self-service BI requires a paradigm shift in the BI team as they move from being a report creator to an enabler of self-service BI. Instead of producing reports, the BI team supply trusted, cleansed datasets from the EDW through self-service BI tools. For more complex reports the business can work directly with the BI team to answer any questions. That said, encouraging a strong community of business users will promote collaboration and help users learn from each other – and ensure that self-service BI adoption is not hampered by the ability of the BI team to answer everyone’s questions.
Does self-service BI completely free up the BI team from producing reports? In our experience, the answer is no. There will always be a need for mission-critical and senior executive reports to be carefully designed, tested, distributed and supported. These reports are typically part of a performance management programme or are aligned to organisational strategy with complex KPIs. Self-service BI will allow the BI team to spend their time focusing on more complex analyses of organisational data such as predictive analytics.
Democratisation of data together with self-service BI form a key plank of the data-driven organisation – an organisation where data is seen as a valued asset. If you are keen to learn more about how self-service BI and Microsoft Power BI can transform your business then please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.