Friday 10 January 2014

Winning BIG with Self-Service BI

Experts indicate that midsized organisations can win BIG by outsourcing business intelligence to a self-service provider in the Cloud.

Business Intelligence has long been considered a challenge for midsized organisations. With costly systems overburdening IT departments, there is a failure to focus on the changing needs of business users. New business intelligence services in the Cloud are inviting IT departments to outsource their biggest data challenges to data specialists who can deliver a single version of the truth to multiple business users, on demand.

Outsourcing the challenge

The challenge facing many IT departments is defined by the volume, velocity, variety, and veracity of data, or what is known as big data. Long-time IT professional and author, Don Jones, reports that many midsized companies are,
"drowning in unrelated facts that come from silos: payroll data, financial data, customer data, vendor data, and so on." 
IT departments that lack the support of a data scientist (of which there is a known shortage) may be challenged by pooling together all the data meaningfully into the kind of reports business users request. BI expert Ravi Kalakota at Practical Analytics, turns our attention to BI models that offer "data science know-how as a cloud service". Another BI thought leader, Wayne Eckerson at B-eye, notes that outsourcing these challenges is "about avoiding failure and delivering value from BI investments". He adds that the outsourcing of BI offers,
"well defined processes, specialised software, and highly experienced staff who can deliver positive results quickly."
In an effort to avoid the cost of acquiring data scientists, overburdened IT departments need to steer their organisations toward the Cloud, where outsourcing BI is becoming an affordable alternative to rapidly recruiting to develop a centre of excellence in-house or buying business intelligence software, which requires significant commitment to funding the setup, maintenance and training cost.

The Great Equaliser

David Menninger, vice president at Ventana Research Inc, tells TechTarget that,
"The cloud is the great equaliser in terms of minimising investment risk ... Companies can now buy BI products and services in chunks on a monthly [subscription] basis, instead of having to do a big-bang [project]."
EMA Inc did a survey of more than 160 Cloud deployments in 2011, discovering that 25% of organisations use BI applications in the Cloud (via TechTarget). In 2012, Gartner Inc. reported that nearly one third of organisations were already using, or were planning to augment their core business intelligence (BI) functions in the Cloud.
“We are rapidly heading towards a world of analytics everywhere,” said Dan Sommer, principal research analyst at Gartner.
This growth of BI in the Cloud is a big part of the future, says Lekha Menon and Bhawna Rehani of Tata Consultancy Services because,
"The Cloud offers several advantages in terms of cost benefits, flexibility of implementation, availability and speed of implementation" (PDF).
Experts are suggesting that midsized organisations migrate their thinking about business intelligence initiatives towards the Cloud to save moneyreduce risk and deliver business reports to whomever needs them on demand. The suggested solution should include a capability known as self-service BI.

The Advantages of Self-Service BI

Before the cloud became common, the advantages of self-service BI were apparent. In 2008, a research brief from Aberdeen reported that the self-service capacity of business intelligence services had enabled non-technical team members at Best-in-Class SMBs (small-medium businesses) to broaden the adoption and usability of BI in their organisations. Once the raw data was sorted and reported these competitive organisations took action to achieve a 56% ROI (return on investment) on their BI service costs.

More recently, in Aberdeen’s May 2013 agile analytics survey, most organisations were found to achieve a faster ROI by encouraging wider team involvement in analytics projects, especially those involving cloud-based BI tools. The fact is, BI requirements tend to change faster than IT's ability to keep up and business intelligence models that are "too heavily IT-centric are unsustainable" said researcher Boris Evelson in a report by Forrester (via ComputerWeekly).
"We maintain that in an ideal BI environment, 80% of all BI requirements should be carried out by the business users themselves," Evelson said.
At TechEye, James Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester, points out the reason why self-service BI is catching is also because it offers the kind of data visualisation and statistical modelling that people usually undertake in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, but with the benefit of "highly user-friendly drag-and-drop user interfaces".

The challenge, however, is that many self-service BI providers do not ensure their customers' data quality is good enough before starting the task of creating visual reports and dashboards. When business users and their IT departments are left with the task of loading their own data into the cloud-based tools, it can present a 'garbage in, garbage out' situation. When GIGO happens, business users fall back upon their isolated spreadmarts, with multiple versions of the truth, instead of one. The challenge of loading and ensuring data quality is better outsourced to a specialist, via true self-service.

What is independent in Self-Service BI

When self-service BI in the Cloud does not address the independent needs of business users, it can slow down decision-making and require additional, costly IT support.  For those who work in information technology departments, time could more appropriately be spent helping users to make the most of their cloud-based BI tools, rather than trying to host or build a system on site.

An independent Business Intelligence provider will integrate many data silos for their customer and deliver a unified source of business intelligence in the cloud, so users can get on with discovering insights and serving themselves with the custom dashboards they need to answer their business questions.

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