The advantages of self-service analytics & insights

When we speak to businesses about analytics & insights, we often hear challenges from business users not getting the insights they need. Business experts have an idea of which KPI’s or metrics they would like to see, and which data is or should be available, but how can they get the outcome they need?

Traditionally, the answer has been to tackle this question end-to-end in a dedicated team within the IT department, in a so-called ‘Business Intelligence’ environment. We aligned our methodology with more recent approaches, where key bottlenecks are removed and business experts can get the necessary insights in a self-service way.

In an IT managed Business Intelligence environment, business users receive tailor-made reports based on their role in the organisation. The layout of the report and its contents are defined upfront. In case the end user wants to receive a slightly different report, the user must request the changes to the IT department. Adding columns and metrics to an existing report, changing the layout of an existing report or the creation of an entirely new report means … waiting.

Self-Service Business Intelligence is the alternative to the traditional IT managed BI. Self-Service BI enables (business) end users to access and work with corporate data, even when they only have a limited knowledge of statistics, BI or data mining. The data source with relevant data is made available by the IT department. Tools like Tableau, Power BI, Qlik, etc. allow users to connect to the database tables easily and quickly drag and drop the relevant fields in a graphical representation. The IT department should avoid assigning technical names to the database columns, so business users understand the content by reading the column name and do not drag and drop the wrong columns in their report. In the report, users can enrich the existing dataset by adding user-defined calculated columns and calculated measures (based on Excel-like formulas), and customise the layout in line with their preferences. End users can also add data from other sources like MS Excel to the data that is already available in the existing dataset.
The self-service BI tools can be used to explore data, as a one-off exercise, to find interesting relationships between variables by visually inspecting the graphs. If the same exercise is repeated periodically, a business user can choose to save the created visual, fine-tune the layout and share with colleagues. Next, the refresh of the reports can be planned in line with the refresh schedule of the database.

Advantages of self-service:

  • Speed: if business users have access to the corporate data, they can create reports independently from IT which eliminates the delays that characterise traditional BI environments. The role of IT is to deliver the correct data sets, which can be grouped by functional domain like sales, supply chain, operations, etc.
  • Flexibility: business users can easily add columns from the corporate data warehouse to their report, or define their own calculated columns on report level.

Potential drawbacks of self-service:

  • Less standardisation: each user can use his own layout style (colours, font, etc.) which could be troublesome for the look and feel of the reports when e.g. using graphs from multiple dashboards in the same presentation.
  • Multiple interpretations of the same number: each user can create their own version of the same report. In traditional BI, e.g. the total sales number for the company exists in a report and its definition is clear. In self-service BI, an end user could activate or deactivate filters which makes the sales number in the personal report slightly different. The risk is multiple versions of the truth.

The potential disadvantages can be overcome by making agreements and setting standards between business users. Definitions of important business metrics can be defined in a business catalogue, which ensures keeping one version of key figures.

How can LoQutus support self-service analytics & insights in your organisation?

We help business experts kickstart their analytics & insights journey. We identify the key business challenges in getting the required insights, we prepare the data, and prototype the insights solutions you need. This can be a report, a dashboard, a data story, a machine learning algorithm, anything. We then guide your organisation in embedding these solutions, and enable self-service with the necessary training and coaching.

To conclude, LoQutus can help to

  • Identify and locate the relevant data sources in your organisation;
  • Combine data from different sources into a central model where up-to-date data resides in a format easily accessible for analysis;
  • Quickly create a first iteration for dashboards based on our experience;
  • Assess and implement machine learning algorithms to add intelligence;
  • Discuss with stakeholders to iteratively improve and fine-tune the solution;
  • Organise trainings and coaching for end users;
  • Set up the required governance for self-service.

If you would like to hear more about how to set up self-service analytics and insights in your organisation, let us know!

Stijn Vannieuwenborgh