In recent years we have seen the emergence of self-service IT solutions, whereby business people can manage tasks that had formerly been delegated to their colleagues in the IT department. A good example of this is self-service analytics.
Self-service provides end users the opportunity to perform analysis without waiting for IT to be available. It also enables those in IT to focus their attention more specifically on innovation. However, in practice, self-service analytics doesn’t always guarantee that everything runs more smoothly. The self-service choice, which seems so logical, may require further examination.
Self-service is Not the Holy Grail
End users need to be self-sufficient. Businesses must retain the reins and determine what works best with the tools that they use every day—and this sometimes means moving forward without the input and intervention of IT, a department that end users often associate with roadblocks and delays. This way of thinking has significantly transformed the analytics market, with many new technologies playing into this school of thought.
In turn, many companies have purchased self-service tools to allow various departments to get started and move forward quickly with their own projects or needs. However, companies are increasingly noticing that self-service solutions are not the holy grail. Doing everything yourself often proves to be both time-consuming and inefficient.
Keeping Knowledge Current
When examining self-service analytics or BI, you see a series of tasks that need to be addressed. For instance, you need someone who:
- prepares the data
- guarantees security
- sets definitions
- has knowledge of analytics and the drive to stay up-to-date with it, following developments in the market
Standard Building Blocks
The best self-service results are often obtained by not doing some things yourself. For instance, let’s look at another self-service example: self-serve restaurants. There are several different types, including buffets where you can choose ready-made entrees and restaurants where you can make the dish yourself using prepared ingredients. There are even bistros where you can pick your own vegetables from a garden and then prepare them to your liking.
What a patron wants to do depends greatly upon their preferences, knowledge, and skills—and also their available time. Someone anxious to catch a flight is not likely to pick vegetables and stir-fry them on a teppanyaki grill at the table. He wants a ready-made salad, preferably vegan and gluten-free. Had he not been traveling and on a tight schedule, the choice would likely have been different.
Results need to be achieved in different ways when requirements change, but you need to have a certain base to be able to do this. What the self-serve restaurant types have in common is that they have foundational facilities that people take for granted, but are essential for operation, like a refrigerator, clean plates, and chairs.
Substitute this situation with self-service analytics. Although it is great improvement that the end user can analyze data themselves and base their decisions upon it, there’s still a lot of foundational effort involved that people take for granted. The end user must always meet several criteria and carry out tasks to produce analyses—tasks that are likely done better, faster, and with the correct knowledge by IT. End users want and need, without doubt, more flexibility and functionality than most IT departments want or dare to provide. However, they still need to rely on IT for foundational facilities like security, definitions, administration, and even ready-made building blocks.
Interplay Between Business and IT
Let’s be honest. Someone who doesn’t understand that you can’t put cell-based calculations—like in their familiar Excel —into a relational database is not capable of modeling their own data. On the other side of the spectrum are people who build things in Excel with macros, functions, and Visual Basic, from which your average ETL developer can learn.
It is therefore a good thing when IT departments are involved and work together with business in analytics projects. Self-service analytics should be a matter of interplay between the end user and IT.
Dare to Trust
We have witnessed a growing demand for, and implementation of, self-service analytics and BI solutions. It seems the perfect answer. The end user is optimally facilitated in the business processes, and IT can finally focus on innovation. Now, having learned from experience, many organizations are re-evaluating this movement—a hidden step on the maturity ladder of the analytics journey.
This also fits well with current trends, in which applications are developed and tested on a small scale and in an agile way. If the result has no added value and no business case can be built, the organization stops and start again.
The most successful implementations of self-service BI are many times seen in companies that have dared to make mistakes. It is thus important to be bold and try things out. But my advice is this: dare to trust that IT will help instead of hinder your self-service projects. There are just some things that are done better if they’re not done yourself. Work together and benefit from the synergy.
Want to learn more about synergy between departments when it comes to building a data-driven culture and an Intelligent Enterprise? Read more!