Self Service Business Intelligence
By: Meirav barsadeh (Publication Date: 01/08/2010)

Business Intelligence enables access, through producing reports, to past and present company data and according to this data also forecast approaches and future business movements. This field is under the responsibility of the Information System department and every request for use of this data goes through them.

The work overload which stems from the high percentage of requests for some sort of use of company data has lead to the need to reduce the amount of requests by providing authorization and appropriate tools and thus enable all edge users, including those that don't thoroughly know how to work with technology-oriented systems and/or unmediated access to data that in the past were available exclusively via mediation of information systems: producing customized reports by request, analyzing researches etc. In short, "self service" BI.

In order to actualize the potential of this "self service" platform, we need a simple, user friendly, comfortable work interface. It should be equipped with utilities such as a simple HELP system that includes an explanation of performed actions, a dictionary, easily orientated design and clear language adapted to the target audience. This interface is meant to assist users to maximally actualize the data's potential.

As a preparatory stage, prior to establishing a self service work interface, the organization must ask itself: what benefit could and would users want to gain from this interface? Examining and defining the targets will focus the discussion on the required tools and allow adapting them to real needs. In most organizations, this kind of examination reveals that 80% of edge users will use reports that are defined according to the needs of the 20 remaining percentages.

It seems to be a win-win situation. Edge users gain direct, simple access to data and information systems benefit from relief from overwork.  But is it really a win-win situation? As many organizations have already learned the hard way, the implementation of a "self service" solution is not as simple as it would seem.

Let's review the advantages of this method:

  1. Reducing overwork in the Information Systems department and making time for dealing with new subjects, such as developing new applications.
  2. Exposing edge users to business data and a simple & comfortable process of producing reports will enable deciding business decisions based on actual statistics rather than on intuition.
  3. Providing precise and scheduled information will assist in gradually instilling z sense of trust within users.
  4. Widely embracing a BI system by the organization's users will exemplify the added value of the Information Systems department.
  5. The more independent use is implemented in the organization's databases, and the decisions made are based on data produced in real time, satisfaction from the double benefit (of both the users and the information systems) will become a milestone in making company workers to partners.

Nevertheless, there are some disadvantages to this method:

  1. Exposing the workers to large amounts of information-flooding instead relieving.
  2. Most users in the organization aren't interested in taking upon themselves the responsibility of locating and producing reports. These activities consume time and someone who is not skilled might make mistakes/errors on which future projects will be based on.
  3. Producing long or complex reports may be a burden on the system's performance.
  4. A large amount of similar/parallel reports can generate difficulty in locating the required report in real time.
  5. Many reports that were created are not used, and therefore create unnecessary overload.

In conclusion, it seems that despite the clear attraction to the 'self service' direction, it is not unlikely that it will cause a drop in use of BI, create an increasingly growing pile of reports and will cause a drop in system performance