/ Self-Service Analytics & The Illusion Of Self-Sufficiency (Part 1)

After years of business users being dependent on busy, understaffed IT teams for all their reporting needs, a shift has occurred. Tired of the inflexibility, slow turnaround and unintuitive tools, business teams are turning away from traditional business intelligence (BI) tools to self-service analytics. Even organizations that have relied heavily on spreadsheets are realizing they need a better analytics platform—one that doesn’t lead to a patchwork data environment that is increasingly messy, unreliable and unsustainable.

The new self-service BI platforms are essential to businesses that seek to place data at the core of their operations, decision-making and optimization efforts. Not only does it free up analysts to focus on more strategic work than reporting, but it also enables more business users to access the data they need when they need it.

This democratization of data across an organization opens up new opportunities that simply wouldn’t be possible with traditional BI tools. By 2020, Gartner boldly predicts that self-service BI platforms will makeup of all self service BI platforms will makeup 80% of all enterprise reporting.

As someone who works in this industry (full disclosure I work for Domo), I’ve seen business people get excited about the power and ease-of-use that self-service analytics tools introduce. However, there’s one important misconception that must be addressed and better grounded in reality. From time to time, some business owners, executives and managers come to believe (or hope) that all you need is the technology and nothing more. They mistakenly expect self-sufficiency from these new BI tools instead of self-service.

To explain the difference between self-sufficiency and self-service, I’ll use a soda fountain analogy. When I was growing up, it was common for employees to dispense the soda drinks you ordered at fast food restaurants. Today,many fast food chains allow customers to fill their own drinks from self-service soda fountains. Similarly, with traditional BI platforms, IT teams typically prepared and dispensed reports to business users who requested them. However, with self-service analytics, business users now have more information at their fingertips than ever before.

While soda fountains are now more freely accessible to restaurant patrons, that doesn’t mean they are self-sufficient. Once the soda machines are installed and connected to water and electricity, the work is not done. Someone needs to ensure there’s an ample supply of carbonation and syrup available, and that the flavors are correct and clearly marked. An employee also needs to ensure customers have the necessary cups, lids and straws as well as adequate ice. In addition, the soda fountains must be regularly maintained and cleaned, or they may become unusable if they’re jammed or unsanitary.

Likewise, someone needs to ensure useful information flows out of your self-service BI tool on a consistent basis. Business users expect to receive relevant data from these tools, which means somebody must ensure the metrics and reporting options evolve to meet the changing needs of your organization. People also need to trust the data, or they won’t use it to inform their decision making. As a result, someone must monitor the data quality and address any serious issues before business users lose faith in the numbers. While the self-service aspect of modern BI platforms offers more freedom and power to business users,it doesn’t remove the responsibility of organizations to manage and maintain these analytics systems overtime. So yes, people still need to be involved on some level with managing your self-service BI platform—just like they do for self-service soda fountains to operate effectively at restaurants.

**This article was originally published on Forbes.com on November 15, 2016