Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek described the Business Intelligence dilemma best, even though he probably never knew of the existence of BI.
In his scholarly article The Use of Knowledge in Society written in 1945, Hayek argued that a centrally planned economy couldn’t work because the central planners themselves only have a limited amount of knowledge of the market. However, the millions of individual actors in the market, with their unique, localized knowledge, combine that knowledge to make much more efficient use of economic resources than central planners could possibly dictate with their limited knowledge.
In other words, we trust the people who are doing the work to know how best to do the work, rather than rely on the limited knowledge of the leaders to tell them how to do their work.
This has been the dilemma of business intelligence efforts for decades. Most data visualization tools within traditional business intelligence platforms have fallen short of meeting end users’ needs. They have limited visualization capabilities, and have made collaboration and publication of usable reports to the people that need them cumbersome at best. In fact, Gartner has reported that less than 3% of potential end-users at organizations that have adopted one of the major analytics platforms actually use these tools. That’s a problem.
But that’s all changing thanks to the self-service BI revolution.
The purpose of business intelligence, analytics and data visualization tools has always been to empower business users to make better decisions by providing them with actionable insights into their data. In fact, most of the current BI projects are driven and funded by the lines of business, not the IT department.
The complexity, and in most cases the required IT background needed to create reports using traditional BI platforms, have been a stumbling block to end users. So what have end-users done instead? They’ve relied on their favorite fallback solution, what I call the ultimate self-service analytics tool, Excel. Users would get their reports from the traditional BI tools and send the data to Excel, where they would perform ad-hoc analysis, create pivot tables, massage the data, and publish their own management reports. But using Excel comes with its own hazards: data manipulation, no single version of the truth, and inaccuracies.
Today Self service BI is finally challenging these shortcomings by giving the end user an approach to easily access and work with information with minimal IT involvement. Tools such as Qlikview, Tableau and SAP Lumira, to name a few, are giving end-users access to easy-to-use self-service data analysis and visualization capabilities so they can get the data they need to do their jobs.
Though self-service analytical tools have been available for about 5 years now, why does adoption seem to be gaining momentum right now? Here are four reasons:
The explosive growth in Big Data has made more data available to organizations than they know what to do with. Firms have been collecting data on their customers, vendors, operational processes, social media, and from the exponentially growing number of network connected devices – and now they need to do something with it.