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Self-Service Business Intelligence

1 August 2010
Meirav Barsadeh

Business Intelligence allows access, through report generation, to a company's past and present data and, based on this data, to predict future business perspectives and movements. This area is under the responsibility of the Information Systems department, and all requests for data use go through them.

The workload resulting from a high percentage of inquiries and requests for various uses of company data has created the need to reduce the number of inquiries by granting appropriate permissions and tools, thus allowing all end users, even those without extensive knowledge or experience in working with technological systems, direct access to data that was previously available only through Information Systems mediation: generating customized reports on demand, analyzing research, and more. In other words, Self-Service Business Intelligence.

To realize the potential of "self-service," a simple, user-friendly, and comfortable work interface must be created. It should be equipped with tools such as a simple HELP system that includes explanations of actions to perform, a glossary of terms, a layout that's easy to navigate, and explicit language tailored to the target audience—an interface designed to help users realize their full potential.

As a preparatory stage, before setting up a "self-service" work interface, the organization should ask itself what benefits users can and will want to derive from it. Examining and defining the goals will focus the discussion on the necessary tools and allow them to be adapted to actual needs. In most organizations, such an examination reveals that 80% of end users will use reports defined according to the needs of the remaining 20%.

It seems like a success for both sides. End users gain direct access to data, and Information Systems get relief from the workload. Is it so? As quite a few organizations have already learned the hard way, implementing the "self-service" solution is not simple.

Let's examine the advantages of this method:

  1. Reducing workload in the Information Systems department and freeing time to deal with new issues such as developing new applications.

  2. Exposing end users to business data and a simple and convenient process of generating reports will allow business decisions based on accurate data rather than intuition.

  3. Providing accurate and timely information will help gradually instill a sense of trust among users.

  4. Widespread adoption of a Business Intelligence (BI) system by organizational users will demonstrate the added value of the Information Systems department.

  5. As the independent use of the organization's databases increases and business decisions are based on real-time data, satisfaction with the double profit, both for users and Information Systems, will become a milestone in turning company employees into partners.

However, there are also disadvantages:

  1. Exposing employees to large amounts of information - flooding instead of relief.

  2. Most organizational users are not interested in taking on the responsibility of locating and producing reports. These actions are time-consuming for those who are not skilled and may produce fatal errors and mistakes on which future work assumptions will be based.

  3. Generating long or complex reports may burden system performance.

  4. Many parallel/similar reports - difficulty locating the desired report in real-time.

  5. Many reports created but not in use create unnecessary load.

In conclusion, despite the clear attraction towards "self-service," it's not unreasonable to think that it might cause a drop in the usability of business intelligence, create a growing accumulation of reports, and cause a decrease in system performance.

A person drawing a diagram on a touch screen
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