Self-service business intelligence (BI) is centered on the idea that employees should be able to access business data and gain insights—without the help of someone in IT or extensive knowledge of SQL. Usually, self-service BI comes in the form of a tool or application that allows end users across an organization to analyze and present data without the help of the IT department.
That means teams in operations, marketing, product development, sales, finance, and more can use data every day to help make decisions while easily following data governance processes. People can tailor their queries and dashboards to answer their specific questions and provide them with insights that help them with their role.
Self-service BI vs. traditional BI
There are several differences between traditional BI and self-service BI. These differences affect who can access data, how quickly someone can get data, and how much autonomy teams have when it comes to understanding how their work influences the organization.
In traditional BI, the gatekeepers of all the data are a small group of people—usually IT or business intelligence teams. They are the ones who control everything: they import the data from various sources, manage and organize data in the data warehouse, make queries, create dashboards, and send out reports. To be involved in traditional BI, the team members must be highly skilled. They usually have significant training and experience in data management and specific software platforms.
Before the team members in traditional BI organizations can send out data or make any significant changes, they often have to get and give approvals, so the process can take a while. A task may need hefty justification in order to be processed. This lag means that the data that comes from the BI or IT teams is at least slightly outdated by the time it’s delivered to the requestor. The data lag means the company is making decisions based on historical data, rather than current trends.
However, self-serve BI is a more modern model where users can access and export data on their own. Like in traditional BI, the data is loaded into the warehouse the same way—but rather than having only a small group of people able to access that data, self-service BI allows many users to view, manipulate, organize, and share the data. This means that teams get real-time access and can create their own reports.
Why is self-service BI important?
Self-service BI is important both to IT teams and to many end users. IT teams no longer have a backlog of requests. They can focus on their own mission-critical work of supporting and improving networks. BI teams also get to focus on big-picture strategy, rather than generating reports for other teams for multiple projects. Many of the data requests teams make in an organization isn’t complicated, but the systems for retrieving the required information are, and the requests take valuable time and energy. The answer to this problem is to simplify the system with self-service BI.
Self-service BI is also important for the end users. Self-service BI models democratize data and enable many people throughout the organization to access and view data. Users can customize dashboards to fit the needs of their own projects. They can explore data and find what’s useful to their role and team.
While this is great for both IT teams and individual users, the company as a whole also benefits. Because users can access reports and data in real-time, the entire organization is running on the most recent data. Teams and executives can make better business decisions for the organization when they have the latest insights and the most up-to-date trends.
Benefits of self-service BI
Self-service BI has many benefits to individual end users as well as to entire organizations. Here are some of the advantages businesses get when they move to a self-service BI model:
Quicker answers to questions. End users can access data faster and find what they’re looking for whenever they need to.
More scalability. Self-service BI is more accessible to people who don’t have a lot of technical skills, so new team members can be added quickly. There’s no loss of access when a single IT gatekeeper leaves the organization.
Data-driven decisions. When teams have up-to-date information, they can make the best decisions possible.
Competitive advantages. When your teams can make better business intelligence decisions, your projects can move faster and be more adaptable to market changes than your competitors.
Higher data quality. When you share information between teams or present to executives, you’ll know the data is sound. Self-service BI makes many complicated calculations for end users, so there are no mistakes due to someone being poorly trained on an IT platform or because a report was outdated.
More effective IT. Your IT team can focus on tasks that warrant their technical expertise, such as data mining and keeping networks running, rather than running reports all day.
Increased data literacy. When more people have access to data, they become more familiar with metrics and data sources. They get to interact with data themselves and see analysis in action.
Faster onboarding. Self-service BI tools don’t require extensive technical expertise, so new team members can jump in, start exploring data, and begin finding insights quickly.
Deeper understanding of your business. When employees have to request reports and wait for a response, they are only getting access to a narrow slice of reality. Self-service BI empowers them to see and explore different kinds of data and discover and monitor trends. More access to data means a broader view of the business and a holistic understanding of what is happening.
How does self-service BI work, and how do different industries use self-service BI?
Self-service BI works as part of your organization’s larger data architecture. A self-service BI platform works by being connected to data warehouses and various sources of data. Once the platform is set up, managers grant users access, and users can then customize their data with dashboards and individual reports.
That’s how self-service BI works generally, but depending on your organization and industry, you may see differences in how the tools are implemented, what functions they’re used for, and how they benefit the company. Here are some examples of how different industries use self-service BI tools and how self-service BI works for them:
Healthcare organizations Healthcare organizations can use self-service BI to better understand public health trends and treat patients more effectively. Self-service BI allows users to catch bottlenecks in the services hospitals provide, such as importing patient records, scheduling appointments, optimizing costs of services, and purchasing pharmaceuticals and medical devices more efficiently. When employees understand the data, hospitals can become more efficient and patients can get better treatment and faster follow-up. Healthcare organizations can also use self-service BI to track what kinds of conditions people experience, the outcomes of certain treatment types, patient satisfaction rates, and how to better staff different departments.
Education is another excellent example of an industry that benefits from self-service BI. Think of all the data that a public school district collects each school year. Administrators and teachers need to compile this data into reports for state and federal funding, grants, size classification, and student support. If the district IT team was the only source for those reports, they would do little else with their workday.
Recycling companies and other eco-improvement organizations
Recycling companies and other eco-improvement organizations benefit from self-service BI. One of the toughest parts of this industry is trying to change people’s behavior on a large scale to benefit the planet. Employees constantly have to justify the work they do. To do this, organizations in this industry need to see data as a story. Self-service BI allows users to see trends, gauge the effectiveness of certain campaigns on people’s recycling habits, estimate the effects of sustainability-related legislation, and track their metrics in regard to how much pollution was likely avoided because of their efforts. With dashboards, users can create visuals to quickly illustrate the impact they’re having on the earth.
Banking and finance Banking and finance companies are another stronguse case for self-service BI tools. In the financial services industry, customers expect organizations to respond extremely quickly to shifting markets. Whether that’s a change in the stock market or a new tax, companies need to be nimble in changing their strategies, which requires many users in the organization to have access to real-time data through self-service BI. Financial professionals can also use self-service BI to identify high-value customers, emerging markets, promising businesses, and up-and-coming investments, so that their companies can provide the best services to their customers.
Human resource departments are not usually the first area that comes to mind when people think of data. However, self-service BI makes data accessible to areas of the business that have typically been excluded from making data-based decisions. With self-service BI, team members in HR can track data on recruiting campaigns, gauge employee performance, glean insights about employee satisfaction and retention, measure how people-related decisions influence larger financial initiatives of the company, and find trends in making teams more effective.
What should I look for in a self-service BI tool?
As with any new solution, there are several things to consider as you find the self-service BI tool that’s right for your organization. Here are some things to keep in mind as you search:
Look for tools that give you flexible options for presenting data, make it easy to collaborate with different teams, and can help all departments measure the metrics they’re looking for.
To make sure you are getting value for the cost of the self-service BI tool, see if the platform can handle the data types and metrics you need. On the other hand, make sure the product isn’t too technical, or people won’t use it to its full potential, and you’ll be paying for features you don’t use or need.
Ease of use
Demo the product first to test out its mapping capabilities, geospatial data functionality, drag-and-drop abilities, and collaboration abilities. The entire purpose of self-service BI is to make data more accessible, so make sure the tool is easy to use and intuitive to work in.
Your self-service BI tool should fit within your current data architecture. The tool should work with an organization’s existing cloud data warehouse, ETL tools, and BI tools.
Make sure that your self-service BI tool doesn’t sacrifice data governance for ease of use. It should allow administrators to make sure the right data is in the right hands.
Bringing insights to everyone
Self-service BI is a win-win for end users and for the IT department. On a larger scale, it offers company-wide benefits like faster decision time, more updated data, better data literacy, and a deeper understanding of the business across many teams. At Domo, we believe that data is only as good as the people who can wield it. To see how self-service business intelligence can simplify reporting and bring insights to more teams, watch a demo of our platform.
Self-service business intelligence FAQs
Have additional questions about self-service BI or how to choose the self-service BI platform? We’re here with answers.
What is self-service in BI?
Self-service in BI refers to a user’s ability to access data on their own. In self-service BI, users can “self-serve” and explore data, create their own dashboards, and generate their own reports—without needing extensive technical training or contacting someone in IT.
What is the difference between self-service BI and guided analytics?
Guided analytics is when a company sets up dashboards and charts in a platform. Users can see these visuals and make decisions based on them, but the platform is still owned by IT. If users want anything different, they’ll still have to contact IT, whereas in self-service analytics, users can create their own dashboards and explore data freely.
What is the difference between managed enterprise BI and self-service BI?
Managed enterprise BI is centrally managed, usually by the IT department. This software is great for testing data for accuracy, but it’s slow, requires users to interact with IT frequently, and often does not allow any customizable reports beyond a few pre-set-up dashboards. However, self-service BI is managed at lower levels—usually department levels—and is much more agile, as users don’t need IT to access or share data.
What is self-service business intelligence vs. business intelligence?
Self-service business intelligence is a type of business intelligence where users are allowed to access and explore data to make faster business decisions. Business intelligence, in general, can include self-service business intelligence, managed enterprise business intelligence, and traditional business intelligence.
What does self-service reporting mean?
Self-service reporting means users can create their own dashboards and generate their own reports. They don’t have to ask IT for any help. Users can generate and create reports on their own at any time, without making a request or waiting for a standardized automated report to come from someone else.
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