Self-service BI and the DIY trap

Here is a common scenario, seen in organizations all over the planet. I’m talking about self-service, which is meant to be a good idea.

DIYFor quite a while now, self-service BI has been all the rage. Understandably, business users are often discouraged, disappointed or outright annoyed by the lack of support for BI they get from their local IT departments, and so they often decided to take matters into their own hands. In most cases, Microsoft Excel comes to the rescue, but when that approach doesn’t scale or is otherwise not manageable anymore, those functional departments are looking for a more pragmatic solution. They called it self-service BI, but it was really more self-help. This is where companies such as Qlik or Tableau have seen huge success from generating demand and adoption through grassroots movements, which often happened behind IT’s back. After a while, those DIY implementations became a little more complex and the newly generated shadow IT groups needed help.

What usually happens next?

After IT’s aggravation has subsided, and the rogue projects have been reigned in again, Big IT decides to give the business what they say they want and sets out to enable their users through controlled self-service BI. Or so they thought.  Because it is not about the tool. Now, the functional departments are creating reports, dashboards, and are analyzing data to their hearts’ content, and all with IT’s blessing, yet they still don’t seem to be happy. Why? Because they often rely on self-service definitions (for lack of a better description). Only those organizations that base their BI infrastructure on a commonly agreed data model and semantic layer, the confusion over what means revenue, how many customers have churned, or the profitability of a certain product, can be kept to a minimum. Many others look at their beautiful self-serviced dashboards, nicely rendered on the latest mobile gadget, and have the same funny feeling as before that the figures they are looking at do not represent the truth. So, be careful what you wish for when you say you want “self-service” as there are still a few traps along the way. Some infrastructure guardrails are necessary.