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Dresner’s Point: Is Self-Service in Business Intelligence Helpful or Harmful?

By July 6, 2015Article

There’s a new wrinkle in the use of self-service functionalities in business intelligence. A year ago, self-service showed up in our Wisdom of Crowds® annual market study as one of the hottest areas of BI. As we discussed this in one of my Friday #BIWisdom tweetchat sessions at that time, it was clear that the biggest benefit was that clever structuring and integration of data could help users discover new insights faster. And there was consensus among the group that self-service functionality would drive BI penetration downwards in organizations – certainly a good thing. 

Leaping forward to our 2015 market study, we find that deeper penetration/adoption happened. But the study also found that users’ perceived success with BI declined somewhat over the year and the state of data governance worsened. It’s clear that user-driven or self-service capabilities have had both a positive and negative impact on business intelligence. 

So I lobbed some questions to the #BIWisdom participants on a recent Friday: Is self-service BI doing more harm than good? How can we have data freedom in user self-service and also have good data governance? 

They factored in the blame or root causes, tweeting:

  • Given the disruptive forces of Hadoop, etc. to established architectures, the data governance problems don’t surprise me and may grow.
  • The term self-service has been misused and the users not well trained.
  • This is in line with a lot of new vendors and tools in the space. And departments are buying their own tools.
  • Some tools are overstated as to their ease of use.
  • Users view self-service as having the freedom to do whatever they want, rather than viewing it as user access to data and user-led discovery in a governed environment. 

And they tweeted prescriptive remedies:

  • Data governance comes down to performance management and needs to be part of every individual user’s goals.
  • Self-service still implies the user has a level of competency in using and manipulating data. Users need to be trained on self-service tools.
  • BI needs a centrally governed independent function (a BI Center of Competency – BICC).
  • A key issue is data lineage – the line of business (LOB) that creates the data is often not the same one that uses the data. I think the first step is to admit that the organization needs a Chief Data Officer (CDO). 

One aspect the #BIWisdom tribe agreed on is that self-service BI is still a new paradigm; as such, it is experiencing growing pains, but effectiveness should eventually settle in. 

Bottom line: In a year, self-service BI has gone from being a hot item to also being in the hot seat surrounded with a great deal of scrutiny and pressure. Self-service often exposes existing holes in data governance because there are more eyes on the data. Data chaos from conflicting data/answers is the last thing C-suite execs need as they try to understand performance across their entire organization. 

Although self-service BI starts with good intentions, organizations must maintain data governance or their data will deteriorate and not lead to insights. I agree that the LOBs should have a key role in data governance and it should not get abdicated to IT. I think the chief data officer role can be helpful in data governance and self-service issues if the CDO is truly empowered and has an appropriate charter and staffing. Also, perhaps the CDO should report directly to the CEO, as this may help to signal the importance of the function. 

Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.









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