Until very recently I have spent most of my consulting career designing and constructing tactical Business Intelligence (BI) tools for Business Users sometimes with the co-operation of the IT Department and sometimes in direct competition to them. Because of this I have been cautious when investigating the new trend of Self Service BI which claims to provide a complete solution to the business user by providing advance visualization, data discovery and integration and visual analytics.
Sat at home one evening recently I was pondering over the problems that face both the IT Department and the Business User when searching for the truth amongst the myriad sources of information prevalent within most organizations. In the office a request to search for information requires the business user to submit a requirement to the IT department to supply a snap shot of data the user then has to wait until this request is fulfilled before they can take the data supplied, extract the exact figures they want and then marry this data to department data to actually get to the insight that they are looking for. Compare this with the near instantaneous results of a search request to any one of the major search suppliers on the web whilst on the internet and you can completely understand the user’s frustration.
The new swath of vendors offering to supply the answer to this problem have realized that the business users have become disappointed by the inflexibility over the last ten years of Corporate BI implementations to provide insight into their corporate data. These new “Self Service” tools being currently offered seem to be the solution to this problem in that they combine interactive visual analytics with data integration and near instant results for even complex BI cases. This means that the new vendors are ensuring that their sales effort is placed firmly with the Business Community in most cases to the detriment of the IT Community.
The major concern that I have with regards to these tools is governance of data or to put it another way “One Version of the Truth”. The need for Business Intelligence Right Now (BIRN) to support critical business decisions based on insight into multiple data sources is well understood by the Business however as they cannot verify the data once it has left the rarified air of the BI Semantic Layer they cannot guarantee it is the one version of the truth. This is also a major problem with most if not all of the current tools on the market supplied by various vendors is that they also cannot guarantee that they have governed data as most either store the data locally or only use a snapshot.
This problem has been identified by Quest Software who currently has in development a number of tools which will aid collaboration between not just IT and the business but also between business departments utilizing the “One Version of the Truth” as the core of their systems. Self-Service BI is not a myth, but with too many supposed “self-service” solutions are being designed (knowingly or not) for a the more technical user who sometimes identify themselves as “Data Analysts” and have far too much complexity for the normal Business Analyst (BA). The BA has no problem with a pivot table in excel and understanding the business relationships of the data but when faced with a requirement to understand SQL or Data Architecture struggles. Taking this into consideration Quest has designed two separate tools one for the Technical user and one for the business user. Both are easy to use, intuitive and have the ability to integrate and analyses data from many disparate sources and then provide visualization and basic dashboard reporting their critical difference however is that they supply a secure connection to the company’s BI infrastructure to provide the governed data required to make the insight provided correct.