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For Faster and Better Access to Insights, Try Self-Service Business Intelligence

Posted February 5th, 2016

The 2016 Benchmark Report on Self-Service Business Intelligence publishes next month. To take the survey that serves as the basis for the research, and receive an advance PDF of the report, please click here.

Self-service business intelligence is easy enough to explain, even to someone without any knowledge of business intelligence. Simply put, it means empowering non-IT business users to make smarter, more timely business decisions by giving them the ability to get the answers they need at a glance, in charts, graphs, and performance dashboards. Most companies today have multiple ways of producing reports in tabular format. But not all of those ways should be dignified with the term business intelligence or yield optimal — or, often, even minimally acceptable — results.

Companies that have invested a small fortune into business intelligence (BI) initiatives often find themselves reverting to old-fashioned spreadsheet analysis at times because their data systems failed to anticipate all of the organization’s analytic needs. Spreadsheets are the boogeyman of BI. Creating a report that spans multiple data tables or that mixes in SQL-based databases can quickly turn into a big mess. And entering the data in a spreadsheet can be a nightmare if the rows and columns are not lined up correctly. To dynamically refresh the spreadsheet as new data becomes available and update the graphical elements can also be rife with challenges. Simply put, spreadsheets comprised of rows and columns of quantitative information tend to be poorly suited for data exploration and insights discovery.

self-service BI

Instead of grappling with formatting issues, data importing and exporting issues and version control issues, users should be focusing their attention on making smarter business decisions. While Excel is the tool that is close at hand and can allow business users to create their own analysis, without depending on IT staff, it is often the wrong tool for the job. What managers really need is something that is as intuitive and easy to use as Excel for ad hoc analysis but far more powerful.

Enter self-service business intelligence. Today companies of all sizes are utilizing self-service BI tools that use visualization and advanced user interface techniques to achieve greater ease of use and faster and better access to information and insights. Even for large corporations, data exploration and visualization tools can supplement their core business intelligence initiatives, providing a friendlier front end that builds on existing investments. This is partly a response to stretched IT staffs that cannot keep up with the constant demand for new reports and analysis. In fact, large companies often find that the most tangible return on investment can come from implementing relatively inexpensive tools that consolidate data on the fly and present it in a visually meaningful way. For smaller companies, these tools may be the only ones they need.