Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Promise of Self Serve

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How many times in your life have you had an excellent experience with self service? The vending machine saves a lot of time in standing in line and making a transaction with a cashier. This is something that we all understand and take for granted. We are all familiar now with self service gasoline stations, but can you remember what it was like the first time you pumped your own gas? Do you remember the days before online banking? The first iterations of online banking were very cumbersome, with 3rd party software required to connect and non-intuitive interfaces. There is definitely a learning curve for the consumer when adopting self service, and we ignore this fact at our peril.

In the Business Intelligence field, self service is one of the most over used terms to describe the value of a BI implementation. Every vendor has a story about how their product will promote self service with your user community. Based on my experience, it is very useful to clearly categorize the types of self serve access your users can expect. This is a helpful way to segment your user base and to align your BI strategy.

Below I describe my thinking on these user segments.

Self Serve Level 1 (Report Consumer)

  • Ability to access / refresh reports on demand
  • Ability to chose pre-defined parameters to filter data
  • Ability to drill down along pre-defined paths

Basically no ability to customize reporting or explore data outside of pre-defined reports.

Technologies required: Enterprise BI Platform (i.e. MicroStrategy, Cognos, Oracle, Business Objects, etc.)

Self Serve Level 2 (Data Explorer)

  • Ability to explore exposed data sets
  • Ability to import data
  • Ability to created limited reports / dashboards

Technologies required: Data Visualization Tool (i.e. QlikView, Tableau, MicroStrategy Visual Insight)

Self Serve Level 3 (Report Author)

  • Ability to create custom dashboards and reports against any available data source

Technologies required: Enterprise BI Platform (i.e. MicroStrategy, Cognos, Oracle, Business Objects, etc.)

Self Serve Level 4 (Data Scientist)

  • Ability to load and access large volumes of unstructured, semi-structured, and structured data
  • Ability to create and test complicated models

Technologies required: Big Data (i.e. Hadoop, Other Big Data vendors), Statistical Modelling Tool (i.e. SAS, R, etc)

Note that the levels are not mutually exclusive and higher levels will have the capabilities and will leverage the technologies from lower levels.

My recommendation is to segment your user base into the above or similar segments and ensure you have the right training and tools to support each segment. Arguably you should start at Level 1 and ensure you have the basics right, but it is possible to push forward on each level in parallel, but this will drive more complexity into your BI program.

While the promise of self serve BI is real, it takes a lot of work, planning and user engagement to realize the benefits for your organization.

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This is a personal weblog, and does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer.