Why Self-Service Business Intelligence is the Next Big Thing in BI?

Mobile Man / Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The consumerization of IT has had a huge impact on whole areas of computing in the workplace. People now commonly use their personal devices - smart phones, tablets and even watches - to get work done. Their use of the web, social networks and apps has also raised expectations when it comes to enterprise software. People now demand levels of UX, usability and functionality way beyond what was reasonable even a few years ago. In short people want consumer grade tools and experiences in the workplace.

The next area to feel the impact of these trends is business intelligence, specifically the area of “self-service”.

What is self-service business intelligence?

Self-service business intelligence is essentially business intelligence without the IT department. It is the ability to deliver actionable insights, without the need to instigate a complex technical project, custom software, or teams of developers. It is the ability for business users themselves to get involved in solving their own problems, in building and delivering their own dashboards and insights. It is a freedom for all concerned to do more, and it is a really powerful proposition.

ReportPlus from Infragistics

Our own ReportPlus mobile app, for iOS and Android, is an excellent example of how good self-service BI can be realized. You can find out more about the tool here, but let’s look at a practical example:

Darren is a sales manager for a large marketing agency. He travels the country talking to potential clients about how the campaigns, reports and research his company produces can help them get ahead of their competitors. He often talks about ‘ROI’ and ‘Competitive Advantage’ in his meetings, but he understands the power of showing clients real demos.

He used to work with his IT department to build demos in advance of each sales meeting. He’d do a little research on the company in advance, put together a lot of mock data that he thought was useful. IT would then use some business intelligence tools to put together interesting reports and dashboards. When the process worked, it worked well, but there were a number of issues:

  • Getting the data, in advance of talking to the company was hard. It often resulted in Darren making it up. This meant it wasn’t always realistic.

  • IT need to build the dashboards, they used SQL Server to store the data and generated dashboards in HTML and CSS. This took time and planning. Darren, being in Sales, needs to be reactive. IT didn’t always keep up.

  • The technology needed supporting. Darren sometimes got to meetings and couldn’t access the demo. IT often turned off servers without telling him, or accessing them remotely proved complex.


This all changed when Darren got ReportPlus. Suddenly self-service BI was an option for him. His Sales prep and presentations where now radically different:

  • He did little prep, other than ensure he had created some relevant dashboard, in which he could pull in the customer’s data.

  • When he arrived at the meeting he asked if it was possible to login to a SharePoint system, a HR tool, Google Analytics, or some other such data source.

  • In his meeting he simply plugged this data in ReportPlus, used some dashboards he’d prepared and showed his potential clients how they could benefit from the insights he was selling.

Suddenly Darren didn’t need to reply on IT, complex BI software he couldn’t access directly, or conditions out of his control. He could do it all himself. Darren was using his own self service BI solution, and getting real wins out of it.

What next for the IT department?

It is a myth that self-service IT means the end of the traditional IT department. Rather than being seen as a negative development, trends like BI are actually huge opportunities for these technical groups to focus on other more rewarding tasks. Rather than being tied up in end user configuration and support, they can focus on backend architecture and configuration. Within the area of BI there's still plenty of work needing to be done, things like setting up data warehouses and databases. Essentially they can get back to what they are best at.

Self-service business intelligence is actually a win win for people across an entire organization. End users get to contribute in the most positive ways to solving the very problems that affect them. IT departments and teams can focus on other areas where they can deliver value. And those at the top of an organization realize the resource and financial efficiencies that can help make them more competitive in the marketplace.