Today, the name of the game in business intelligence is easy access. Business users want easy access to information and insights. They want up-to-the-moment dashboards and continuous on-demand reports delivered to their desktops or printers in lightning-quick speed. They also want to be in control. They want to sit in the driver’s seat. And they want to go as fast as possible.

Of course, speed comes in various forms. IT professionals talk about the performance of a BI system in terms of how quickly it can process big data and update a dashboard or produce a new report. Speed of implementation is another consideration to keep in mind. A state-of-the-art BI system that takes two years to architect, customize, and deploy will not do much good if, in the meantime, the company goes out of business.

Agility, Flexibility and Ad Hoc Analysis

Next-generation self-service BI solutions lend themselves to faster results because they do not presume that every important business question has already been identified and made available in a report, fed by a data warehouse optimized to answer those specific questions. Self-service BI tools thrive on agility, flexibility and ad hoc analysis. The tools are not dependent on the continuous support of IT resources.

In fact, self-service BI boasts delivery models that, once deployed, generally require little IT involvement. In the past, a business user examining budgetary expenses, for example, would not have been able to drill down to individual transactions recorded in the ERP system to identify excessive expenses, along with the managers who approved them, without IT’s involvement.

While the type of on-demand reporting will vary dramatically depending on the specific job role, organizational function and business objectives, business users all want the same thing: to be able to make smarter, more timely business decisions. Ideally, they want the answers to their questions to leap off the screen — which, in an almost-literal sense, self-service BI enables.

This is what separates self-service BI from traditional BI approaches. It’s about empowering non-IT professionals with data access and insights discovery. It’s about giving them the tools to know what they can do right now to increase efficiency and effectiveness — as opposed to what they could have done a couple of weeks ago, when they submitted their request to IT to produce a custom report based on their specified data parameters and configuration needs.

The acceleration of decision-making cycles speaks to the importance of putting data in the hands of business users, however and whenever they need it.

After all, business decisions are made not only by accuracy and timeliness of the data, but also by the ability to create customized views into the data, based on specific requirements. Everyone has a different question they’re trying to answer, a different information need they’re trying to address.

Giving business users the ability to create custom views into information that meet their needs may not seem like such a big deal. But for companies that for years and decades have been hamstrung by the constraints of static, one-size-fits-all reports, having such a capability may, in fact, be nothing short of transformational.

Research Findings

The benefits are obvious. For starters, one need only consider the time savings that self-service BI can deliver. According to The 2016 Benchmark Report on Self-Service Business Intelligence, published this month by Starfleet Research, 92% of companies cite time reduction (e.g., the time needed to access information, the time needed to analyze data, the time needed to make decisions, etc.) as a top reason to deploy self-service BI.

A common refrain from business users who previously relied on traditional BI tools and processes is that the response from IT to their requests was suboptimal, at best. They complain of having had to pester IT multiple times to get a new report. Almost half (47%) of them said that they needed to go outside the standard reporting and analysis process at least once a month to get the information they needed.

Time spent chasing down information is time that employees could spend doing any number of other things to create value for the business. With self-service BI, business users can get the information and insights they need faster, and from more data sources, making it possible for their organizations to respond and adapt more quickly to changing business conditions or new opportunities.

This improves employee productivity at all levels of the organization. It also reduces the amount of tension that has often existed between the IT staff and business users and that was long the hallmark of traditional BI operations.

With self-service BI, managers can spend more time focused on optimizing their numbers rather than compiling and trying to make sense of them. Knowledge workers can get more work done within the same timeframe, and make better, faster decisions along the way, leading to significant increases in productivity across the organization and increased business success that benefits the company as a whole.

Needless to say, any tool that allows employees to increase output without increasing costs is music to everyone’s ears, and especially to the ears of those who sit in the executive boardroom.