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Self-service BI: Power to the user

Self-service business intelligence (BI) is the latest development in what can only be described as the user empowerment movement. We saw it with the cloud, and again with mobile devices; now we’re seeing it with business intelligence.

Users across enterprises are not waiting for IT, the resident statistician or business analyst to produce a report for them. Instead they are asking for and getting access to tools that let them dig for their own data and create their own reports based on the needs of their job function.

Some call this self-service BI, but it is yet another sign of a much larger movement in which IT increasingly is becoming a services broker. Many of the CIOs we’ve talked to have embraced this self-service movement. One case in point is Owens Corning CIO David Johns, who predicts that the majority of IT services one day will be delivered through self-service portals at his company.

I’m oversimplifying here. IT groups are doing more than merely activating services for the user base. They are the folks who are making this user empowerment movement possible by vetting self-service BI tools, mobile devices and cloud providers, and integrating services with back-end systems. They are the ones who are being asked to make sense of the multiple Software as a Service (SaaS) contracts spread across an organization. As one CIO, who asked not to be named, recently told me, his company is attempting to put some governance around multiple SaaS contracts (bought by business units) because the costs are getting out of hand.

A key to successful self-service BI is balancing user freedom with the risks that opening up data access poses to the enterprise. Striking that balance is something that IT will always have to manage with each new grassroots technology movement. In the case of self-service BI, potential risks appear worth it, given the enterprise’s drive to use BI to make workers more productive, create new revenue streams and gain better insight into what customers really want.

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