Self Service BI, data utopia or same old dashboard?

I had an interesting discussion with the #BIWisdom tribe on twitter last week. The discussion was on SSBI (Self Service BI).

I agree with the principle of SSBI being available to everyone, however, the truth is there are different types of users with differing needs and technical ability.

In my experience, I see analytical users, the people who want the detail. They have some skills from varying degrees to slice/dice/mash-up etc. but the over-riding characteristic is that they have an inquisitive mind. These people have been line managers, VP, Directors. The grade doesn’t really come into it. I think these people will benefit most from SSBI. These people are in short supply.

The second type of user is the person that wants the information on a plate. They don’t see the value hidden in their data or at least they don’t have the will to do it themselves. They usually want someone else to give them the insight. These are 2 extremes of course, many people lie somewhere in between and I think it’s these users that will benefit from the plug and play types of dashboards from QlikView and Microsoft’s PowerView.

I had an interesting discussion with a Sales Director recently. I asked about her requirements for management information for her and her team of business development/sales managers. I gave her a choice of reports, dashboards, pivot tables. In the end what she wanted was the key performance facts delivered to her Blackberry. She also wanted her staff to receive the same personalised facts on their Blackberry. She specifically didn’t want any of her staff to be diverted from the main task of selling/account management.

You could argue this sales mentality is out of date and the sales team should be spending time analysing the customer records/account facts. My view is that it depends on many factors, such as the widgets being sold and the level of relationship management, as to how much fact based analysis is performed. However, I can never see a sales manager creating a DAX based Power Pivot model. Although, I can see them navigating a dashboard and slicing data.

How do we get the data from the database table to a Dashboard? It is this activity that is under-flux.  The nature of data source is also changing, we have local data, unstructured local data, big data, cloud data, external data.

It is far from perfect. For instance, PowerPivot/QlikView are great tools if you have good quality data sources. Of all the organisations I’ve worked with, the data sources are not usually of a high quality in the context of management information.  We even see this with modern tools such as DynamicsCRM.

The issue is that IT see the data source as being top quality for the purpose it was designed for i.e. transactional processing. I don’t think they appreciate someone like me telling them the data is poor for analysis. So the answer to this problem lies with ETL/Data integration.

At the moment ETL/DI is not self-service. I want a self-service ETL tool, although, I think many things need to change in the minds and world of IT for this to happen. Even if I had a tool today I don’t envisage the IT director letting me poke around the live OLTP system and I’d probably agree.

SSBI is a deep subject. There are many stakeholders at different levels. One thing is certain, the tools are getting better and easier to use to such an extent that brings them closer to the end-user and enables fact based decision-making at levels never seen before.

How we join the dots from dashboard to source data has some way to go before we have data utopia.

What do you think?

About Lee Hawthorn

Data Professional
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2 Responses to Self Service BI, data utopia or same old dashboard?

  1. Hi Lee,

    good observations. sometimes, i get an impression that IT vendors want everyone to use their dashboards and some users certainly do, but the majority of IT consumers (finance folks, etc.) need their spreadsheets to uncover inconsistencies and to gain a better understanding of what numbers actually mean and couldn’t care less about the eye candy delivered with this or some other latest underlying technology.

    thx, greg

    • admin says:

      You’re spot on Greg. As a Management Accountant I’ve been through the ‘hands off my spreadsheet’ phase and the ‘show me the detail’ request. It’s only in the past 5 years or so I realised that visuals/creativity is an important tool in the performance management arena, but it has to be used in the right way a la Stephen Few’s Perceptual Edge.


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