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According to leading market analysts, self-service data and analytics has reached “the slope of enlightenment.” In fact, analyst Dan Kirsch says, “The tide has turned, self-service business intelligence (BI) isn't an option, it's a requirement for successful businesses.”

How do CIOs view self-service and what do they see driving its momentum forward?

What Are the Drivers of Self-Service BI?

CIOs see a number of drivers for self-service BI. At the top of their list is reducing the cycle time for decision-making. The goal is to make data and analytics teams less of a bottleneck to businesses responding at the speed of today’s market.

Undoubtedly ideas like information democracy have expanded the audience needing access to data. The inability to get line-of-business users the information they need, when they need it has created a backlog. Former CIO Isaac Sacolick contrasts the past to today this way: “Remember the days when reporting was centralized in IT? Days/weeks old, backward-looking reports that no one used? To be data-driven means everyone should ask questions and have access to tools and data to pursue answers.” The goal should be to make decisions when they are needed, and this requires quick and easy access to the right data at the right time.

Randy Bean shares the example of American Family Insurance (AmFAM) in his new book, "Fail Fast, Learn Faster." "AmFAM is transforming from a data rich to a data-driven company … They are committed to help everybody do a better job from adjusters to underwriters to agents." CIO Jason James summarized the drive to self-service in this way: “The speed of business and competition now requires that stakeholders have quick access to meaningful data to make decisions. Data needs to be up-to-date, relevant and relatively easy to access.”

Related Article: Should Business Intelligence Be Self Service?

What Is the Value of Self-Service BI?

The value of self-service centers around changing how organizations think about what they're doing and why. In terms of specific value propositions, CIOs point to the following:

  • Shorter time-to-value.
  • Lower business costs.
  • Faster/better decision-making and innovation.
  • Distributed change/transformation at scale.
  • Data-driven processes.
  • Improved quality, safety and efficiency.

CIO Martin Davis summarized it in this way: “BI itself has minimal value, doing something with it that impacts the business is where the value is. By the same argument data cycle time has no value. Therefore, the value comes from better business decisions and reducing business cost.” And of course, doing this at the spend of business has a material impact to business results.

Related Article: What Makes a Good Data Visualization?

What Cultural Change Is Needed to Make Self-Service BI Reality?

As with any significant IT project, self-service BI requires businesses change. It starts by convincing departments to expose data from their organizational silos to broader audiences. Often initiating this change can involve explaining why other groups may find their data useful.

CIOs understand that data ownership remains a problem for many organizations in delivering cross silo capabilities. However, when users can easily view and understand data to drive business, it often frees time by eliminating legacy processes. This accelerates a culture of change when users can do their job faster and easier.

Other necessary culture changes include:

  • Eliminating data hoarding.
  • Determining data access and sharing requirements.
  • Putting in place data literacy (a culture where you seek to understand data and its context).
  • Encouraging responsible use of data.
  • Establishing data ownership and governance.

The aim should be to drive a culture where decisions are only respected, even unpopular ones, when they're supported by good data. Kirsch said data leaders should “teach data literacy to everyone in the organization. It's not just about understanding data, but how can you tell a story to colleagues and partners with the use of data?” CIO Deb Gildersleeve added, “To foster a data-driven culture, you need to both empower people and help break down the technology silos so employees can actually access the data.”

Related Article: How to Improve Data Literacy Among the Non-Quants in Your Organization

What Technologies Are Needed to Deliver Self-Service BI?

CIOs mentioned many technologies being necessary to deliver on the promised self-service BI, including the following:

  • Data Catalog.
  • Master Data.
  • Data Lake/Data Mart.
  • BI/Analytics Tools.
  • APIs/Microservices.
  • Self-Service BI Training.

CIO David Seidl suggested, “As a user, a highly usable data portal or access tool including data discovery and contextualization is critical for more casual, nonpower users. I think that's the real destination of self-service BI in the long-term, with a stop at power users along the way. Also, sometimes discovering that you don't have the data (or that it's not complete, bad, or ungoverned) and figuring out why, and if it's worth gathering and maintaining too, right?” Analyst Jack Gold added, “First you need a way to build a data confidence. Users need the ability to assess how good data is. Next, they need to make data accessible (securely through governance) so people can access and use it, and finally, you need simple to use discovery and analytics tools that don't need a programmer.”

Who Are the Best Partners for CIOs Selling Self-Service BI Initiatives?

CIOs believe they have many potential partners for self-service BI. Seidl said, “It's often a coalition of the willing, but all of a CIO's peers should want access to useful data, and hopefully they should want to make it accessible and usable to a broad range of folks to empower the organization.” Natural partners include:

  • Line of business (LOB) managers.
  • COOs.
  • CEOs.
  • Compliance/Regulatory managers.
  • CMOs.

Marketing organizations have become a lot more data-centric. CMOs can, for this reason, contribute funds and show the rest of the organization how data can drive business outcomes. With this said, Gold said, “The best way for BI and analytics to spread around the organization is for the executives at the highest level to make it a priority. Since it takes a lot of moving parts, not many functional groups can drive it successfully all alone.”

CIOs Can Help Speed the Decision Making Process

Self-service BI is clearly in the process of mainstreaming. However, Kirsch cautioned, “Data discovery is still a massive challenge when it comes to analytics and BI. If you don't know data exists, it won't be part of your decision-making process.” I believe the game going forward is going to be about getting the growing number of hybrid / remote employees the data that they need, regardless of location, so they can make better decisions at the speed of today’s business.