Business intelligence (BI) delivers critical performance analytics and insights to workers, empowering them to make faster and better business decisions. However, enterprise-wide penetration of BI is still surprisingly low – in fact, statistics in The BI Survey 13, recently published by BARC, show that an average of just 15% of employees use BI in locations in which solutions are installed. This is partially due to the misperceptions that business intelligence is costly, difficult to use and deploy, and slow to deliver real business value.
“Self-service BI” is shattering these perceptions. It delivers low-cost, rapidly deployed decision-support, enabling any worker, regardless of job role, geographic location or department, to work from a reliable and up-to-date set of data, presented in a context and detail level relevant to job role and appropriate to data access privileges.
Self-service BI is helping organizations of all sizes. Let’s examine 7 benefits of deploying the technology.
#1: Workers Can Conduct Their Own Analysis
Once you empower workers with the data and tools to perform their own analyses, they will do it, and will generally do it well. Self-service BI eliminates the need to contact IT to run special reports or to manually assemble data from different sources into spreadsheets. Everyone in your organization – from the CEO to the VP of marketing to each individual sales rep, accountant, shipping clerk and machine operator – can gain rich, role-based analytical capabilities. Employees gain access to timely, accurate information and the ability to analyze it from any angle.
#2: Give Your IT & Finance Teams a Break
Enterprise data – such as financial, ERP, HR and MES data – resides in multiple computing systems that are often poorly integrated. Users can’t make informed decisions because the canned reports from each system do not deliver a 360-degree view of business operations, and often do not provide the level of depth or interactivity that allows them to drill down into the details to uncover problems and new opportunities. When employees do request details in the form of custom reports, IT and finance typically bear the burden of fielding these requests. Because self-service BI integrates data from disparate systems and delivers rolled-up reporting to users, it frees up your finance and IT staff. Report delivery requires only a browser for access and eliminates the need to install, maintain and administer large-footprint clients on each user’s workstation.
#3: Quit Arguing, Start Analyzing
With data locked away in disparate systems, when businesses require rolled-up reporting, workers must often manually copy and paste data into spreadsheets, merge and transform it with crosstabs and spreadsheet formulas, and then present the reports to business decision-makers. What often ensues is an argument over the veracity of the numbers. Organizations mired in this “spreadsheet morass” can spend more time arguing over the accuracy of the data than they spend making the required decisions. With self-service BI, data from source systems is automatically extracted, transformed and loaded into a data model that resolves conflicts. Data is regularly updated. The result is a “single version of the truth.” Users can then set aside the debate over the veracity of the numbers and instead focus on collaboration, analyzing promising opportunities, identifying root causes of waste and optimizing existing products and processes. Once departmental data silos and “spreadmarts” are eliminated, workers find that data transparency, consistency and trustworthiness help them work smarter and more effectively.
#4: Get at the Numbers behind the Numbers
Self-service BI allows users to get to the right numbers, to identify trends and then drill down into the details to get to the root causes of problems or to isolate specific opportunities. Filter your data by entering a date range or selecting a category from a drop-down box and you will instantly have a more nuanced view of the data. Click on summary values to drill down to the transaction details behind that summary. This is a highly efficient and intuitive way to deliver business decision-making support.
#5: Eliminate Corporate Decision Fatigue
The more decisions people must make, and the more effort it takes to make those decisions, the less likely they are to make the right ones. This “decision fatigue” leads to mistakes, missed opportunities and failure to correct problems. Self-service BI helps by easing the decision-making process. Self-service BI dashboards, reports and visualizations are designed to convert information into action quickly and unambiguously. In addition, the nearly instant response time to even complex queries lets users remain engaged in their analysis rather than forcing them to wait seconds, minutes and hours for spreadsheet or SQL queries to complete.
#6: Save Money
Because users can get up to speed quickly and require little to no training, support costs with self-service BI are significantly lower than they are with more complex BI solutions. Browser-based information access and analytics means users can access and analyze their data from practically anywhere, using software that is familiar and already installed. If you deploy SaaS-based self-service BI, you can also replace upfront server investments and ongoing maintenance costs with a convenient monthly subscription. In addition, self-service BI platforms scale seamlessly so that as adoption increases, additional server capability can be added without disrupting access or requiring significant IT resources. In marked contrast to traditional enterprise BI solutions, self-service BI tools don’t require either a data warehouse or the associated database licensing costs. This alone can shave months if not years off of BI project timelines and it eliminates a considerable expense.
#7: Shift Your Corporate Culture from Reactive To Proactive
As your enterprise data “ages,” its usefulness diminishes rapidly. Self-service BI provides access to the most up-to-date data, helping you gain insights as soon as new data arrives, rather than weeks later. By working more proactively, organizations can increase market share by identifying underserved territories, discovering new placement opportunities, or expanding into new distribution channels. They can save costs by accurately identifying and discontinuing unprofitable product lines sooner. A more accurate picture of product costs enables companies to price products more profitably. They can more effectively manage promotional and incentive programs with fewer resources and less risk.
As we’ve seen, there are plenty of benefits to adopting self-service BI. As more workers become informed and empowered by the ability to analyze and explore their data, decisions are made faster and with greater confidence.
About the author
Frank Smietana is manager of product marketing for supply chain and manufacturing at Dimensional Insight. You can reach Dimensional Insight online at http://www.dimins.com or on Twitter @DI_tweet.