More and more organizations are using their data to make informed decisions. The rate of data growth as well as the variety of data coming into play has increased the complexity of business users needs to derive value from data analytics. This is where Self-Service Business Intelligence solutions are gaining prominence.

What is Self-Service Business Intelligence?

In my opinion, Self-Service Business Intelligence is a set of tools that enables end users to acquire information from multiple data sources and use it for further analysis. The end users of course need not worry about the technicality or the protocols involved in accessing their business data since it is all managed by the IT team.

We can infer from the above definitions that Self-Service Business Intelligence is a collaborative effort between different business units within an organization and the IT team. Implementing a Self-Service solution also reduces the work load for the organizations IT teams and they can now focus on other tasks.

How is Self-Service BI different from a Traditional BI Solution?

When organizations implemented a Business Intelligence solution the main driving factor would be the business need to have a BI solution. Since it is the business needs that drive organizations to implement a BI solution we should not ideally be comparing “Self-Service” and “Traditional BI”.

We all know for a fact that business needs wouldn’t change drastically over a period of time. What does or has changed is in fact the underlying technologies that have been used to implement a BI solution, the amount and variety of data available now to mine and lastly the organizations culture and expertise of turning the available raw data into useful information.

So rather than comparing Traditional Business Intelligence with Self-Service Business Intelligence, we should ideally be comparing the possibilities offered by “old Technologies/tools” against the “new technology/tools”.

A Self-service Business Intelligence is typically implemented on top of the organizations existing “traditional BI” and makes use of data from trusted sources available through the enterprise data warehouse. So the key to a successful Self-Service Analytics is reliable, consistent and secure data which is provided by a successful “traditional “implementation of BI.

Why do Organizations need a Self-Service BI implementation?

The need for a Self-Service Business Intelligence implementation could vary from small analysis projects, prototyping, or infrequent analyses.  A Self-Service implementation empowers a segment of business users to become producers of information for others to consume.

Let us look at some factors that have contributed to the emergence of Self-Service BI.

  • A significant factor that has contributed to the growth of Self-Service Business Intelligence is that the existing BI solution was unable to react fast enough to the needs of business users. A small change request entailed a lengthy process of making changes to the table structures, ETL processes, semantic layers, cubes and after all these changes were made the entire process has to be run through a full test cycle before being certified for production roll out. Though this is the best way to do it, it does not make sense when the requirement is for a one-time analysis!
  • Compared to the last decade there is a lot more data available for analysis. In addition to the quantity of data the variety of data has also increased. Businesses now feel the need to have a decision making system that is data-driven. This is where simple but powerful tools like Power Pivot and Power Query are making it easier for business users to acquire and work with new data sources.
  • The third and probably the biggest factor is that business users often find IT teams lacking in-depth knowledge of the data and subject areas.  A successful BI solution depends greatly on how well the requirements were gathered.  IT teams often do not possess the domain knowledge where as business users would and will also be well-equipped to produce more BI reports on their own. This is where the popular data discovery and visualization tools have been gaining traction as business users are able to identify, acquire and create visualizations on their own without the help of IT.

Considerations for implementing a self-service BI solution

Identifying and understanding the gaps in your existing environment is of utmost importance. A common misconception is that using a BI solution does not mean it is automatically eligible for Self-Service use. The existing solution should lend itself well to cater to self-service needs where business users must be able to look at information in the way they want and also suits their analytical needs.

Although Self-Service arms business users with the capability to acquire data and create analytics there should be mechanism to verify and validate the analytics developed – both in terms of accuracy of data reported as well as the analytics itself being useful to the organization. Without this there is always a high risk of organizational effort and cost being wasted on developing analytics which will not be made use of.

Organizations should also look at cultivating a culture of using data to support decision making as well as build expertise within the organization to work with, interpret and understand data. It is important to make sure that users have necessary skills to match the self-service capabilities.

When it comes to implementing Self-Service BI, there is no single methodology that can be adopted as needs, culture and capabilities differ from organization to organization. A common and easy approach would be to involve IT through the implementation process with participation from different business units and data experts.


Self-Service Business Intelligence is not a new concept but has been garnering much attention recently and is all about empowering business users with the software capabilities to acquire data and create meaningful information out of it. Organizations should evaluate different approaches and implement the one that best suits them in order to gain competitive advantage from their data.

There are a great many tools that offer Self-Service capabilities which your organization can make use of to fulfill the data needs of business users. In my next article I will discuss about some of the popular data discovery and visualization tools like QlikView, Tibco Spotfire, and Tableau as well as look at the capabilities offered by Microsoft Power BI.


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