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The Era of Self-Service BI

Last year, in its Predicts 2015 series Gartner published a report forecasting a power shift in data analysis away from IT and towards business, driven by the need for organisations to make business decisions based on data to win market share. The report reflects the feedback we hear from our clients; BI had once been a centralised function, often sitting within IT, responsible for organising data, curating reports and dispersing to the relevant departments in business. Reports were based on pre-defined dimensions and, while many BI solutions offer the ability to drill down and interact with the reports, they lack flexibility in their ability to incorporate new data sources or explore the data beyond pre-defined queries. We now find ourselves at an inflection point; business users with a strong understanding of their own area of specialty want the tools and capabilities to provision data and query it themselves without a heavy reliance on IT, who are also under strain. This demand is heightened by “data decay” – the speed at which data loses value or relevance – only emphasising the importance of the timeliness of insight. That said, the need for a centralised function remains; just as “self-service BI” becomes an increasingly hot topic, so too does the need for data stewardship and governance.


Gartner focuses on 5 key themes in this growing trend for self-service business intelligence tools:


    • New capabilities/technologies designed specifically for the self-service market. Focus in development of new tools has switched to intuitive interfaces and the embedding of complex processes so that organisations can adopt data preparation tools on a wider basis.


    • The shift from a centralised Enterprise Data Warehouse (owned by IT) to bottom-up development of new analytics projects requires organisations to explore new architectures, techniques and processes. The “Logical Data Warehouse” has emerged as organisations augment their existing data warehouse infrastructure to allow for the incorporation of more data sources and wider access to the data. In many cases this is enabled by cloud offerings which allow business users to be more experimental in their analytics projects, and take an iterative approach to a Big Data strategy.


    • Those organisations that achieve the most from analytics are tapping into new data sources that are both internal and external to the organisation. As analytic maturity grows, the front running organisations are also gleaning insight from both structured and unstructured sources.


    • Natural language querying is becoming increasingly important as data becomes democratised. This goes hand-in-hand with intuitive user interfaces referenced above.


    • Information governance provides the link between an organisation’s enterprise IT needs and business user agility. Gartner offers a caution that, left unchecked, departmental deployments of self-service tools can expand and lead to further information silos. As such, new tools and technologies should address the needs of the business users but have a path to enterprise adoption.


So what’s the answer? At the end of last year, IBM announced the general availability of Cognos Analytics, the latest version of its Cognos BI software, with the exact intention of supporting the needs of end users while preserving traditional BI values of trusted data. The announcement has been well received by the analysts; IDC stated:

“This upgrade of IBM’s Cognos BI product is significant…as it showcases IBM’s commitment to design thinking and a new generation of BI and analytics tools”.

Please contact us to find out more or arrange a demo.