Why Self-Service BI Is a Unicorn

Loraine Lawson

Self-service business intelligence is a bit of a unicorn, according to a recent piece by Wayne Eckerson, a principal consultant at BI Leader Consulting.

Eckerson shares some recent statistics about self-service BI, and the numbers are not encouraging:

  • 64 percent rate their self-service BI initiatives as  “average” or lower.
  • 29 percent rate it as “fair" or “poor.”
  • 73 percent of BI professionals say self-service BI “requires more training than expected” -- which Eckerson rightly calls “counterintuitive” to the concept of “self-service.”
  • 61 percent said self-service BI “creates report chaos.”
  • 36 percent said self-service BI makes the ask of finding the right report harder.
  • 42 percent said the tools for self-service BI “confuse users.”

Overall, you can safely say that the report shows we’re a far cry from true “self-service” BI.

There is no single BI tool that can accommodate the range of business intelligence users, Eckerson points out. Casual users want very basic information, and they rely on pre-configured reports and dashboards to find it most of the time. Eckerson estimates they only need true ad hoc access to information about 20 percent of the time, and, often, they’ll need IT’s help to obtain it.

Meanwhile, BI tools also need to accommodate the “power users,” who really do need more liberal access to explore and play with data. The problem with this group is they often are exploring business questions that fall outside the scope of the data stored in data warehouses.

As a result, BI managers may feel they’re dealing with Goldilocks: One tool may be “too small” for power users, while being “too powerful” for casual users.

How do you solve this issue? To be honest, you may not like Eckerson’s plan of action.

He argues organizations will need to adopt a hybrid approach that offers personalized support and dashboards for casual users, but a different tool that supports more exploration for power users.

What’s more, there’s just no getting out of the fact that IT has to play a role in BI implementations. Self-service BI may help you escape the tedium of re-running the same reports for casual users every month, or the torture of hand-coding custom queries for power users, but IT is still responsible for the behind-the-scenes integration and data quality work that supports BI projects.

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Oct 20, 2013 4:22 PM Qwalytics: Self-Service Business Intelligence and Natural Language Reporting Qwalytics: Self-Service Business Intelligence and Natural Language Reporting  says:
You're exactly right! But if Self-service business intelligence is a unicorn, adding natural language processing makes it possible!! (http://blog.qwalytics.com) For that, check out Qwalytics: http://www.qwalytics.com. They transform plain english question into reports!! Talk about natural language analytics!! Self-service business reporting and natural language reporting made easy! Reply
Oct 24, 2013 7:12 PM Qwalytics: Self-Service Business Intelligence and Natural Language Reporting Qwalytics: Self-Service Business Intelligence and Natural Language Reporting  says:
Very nice article, I used some of your useful concepts to write my own article: Self-Service Business Intelligence and Natural Language Reporting. I'd love to get your feedback. Don't you think that Natural Language Business Intelligence is the next step of Business Intelligence's evolution? Reply

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