Self-service Business Intelligence (BI) is one of the latest trends that’s being promoted by most BI vendors. Put simply, it serves to deliver corporate information to all users within an organisation without the IT department’s involvement (or at least as little as is practical). Its goal is to get information in the hands of anyone who needs to make a data-driven decision, whether it be tactical or strategic in nature.
However, BI isn’t one size fits all. What’s important for the general business user – the teams on the shop floor, in the back office, out on the road servicing clients or managing stock in the warehouse – is often quite different to that of the senior executive developing the business strategy or running the operations of the business.
Let’s first look at the general business user. They’re predominantly interested in tactical and operational activities – they need simple, quick information to help them perform the job at hand. Content delivered to them is typically in the form of report lists, pre-built analysis and simple dashboards with KPIs to identify any variance from ordinary events. Information should be available on hand from whatever device they use, mobile or in the office. Traditionally, BI has not been deployed in any significant numbers to these business users, but the trend is shifting.
Next in the chain of command are Business or Product Line Managers whose responsibility it is to run functions of the business. These executives need richer capabilities to examine a wider range of data drivers and to better explain or understand their organisation’s performance. However, they do not usually have the experience or inclination to learn the tools necessary to develop the content – they just want the information presented in a way that lets them explore their data to identify trends, anomalies, significant variances in results and areas for improvement. The business manager has a greater leaning towards analysing information for strategic purposes, rather than using information to perform a specific task. Let’s take the example of a manager in charge of warehouse operations. Analysis for them might include reviewing all stock on hand, and then ‘slicing’ that information by warehouse, or by product group, or by supplier and seeing where there is excess or depleted stock. This analysis may have been prompted by another report or alert highlighting that on-time shipments were below plan and that the cause was due to inventory shortage. This information may not easily be accessible without BI.
Another consumer of BI is the Business or Financial Analyst whose responsibility it is to offer continual review of performance across all aspects of a business. They may also develop analysis reports for Business Managers. Smaller businesses may give this role to a technical manager or finance consultant or even share the responsibility. These users typically understand their data well, have familiarity with BI tools and are able to produce more complex reports and analysis models to support the business. Often the analyst will be tasked with requirements gathering and analysis for a new business initiative, or to develop and implement test plans to ensure successful delivery of a project. Reporting on such initiatives is crucial and where BI tools often become essential in their day to day activities. Whilst analysts have a technical leaning towards data modelling, a simplified and pre-modelled BI environment will assist them in producing the required content that the business asks of them far quicker. Analysts should not be spending significant time understanding data relationships, structures and extracting raw data – they should focus on providing the reporting outcomes that the business needs.
In summary, whatever role you play in the business, there is value in accessing business data to garner informational insights, do your job quicker or more effectively as well as make better decisions. The tools you use and the depth of analysis you perform will likely be different, but your single BI environment should cater for each individual’s needs.