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Self-service BI catches on

By Elisabeth Horwitt
December 13, 2010 06:00 AM ET

BI for all levels of users

One key factor driving the self-service BI market is the rapidly growing volume and complexity of data needed to make effective decisions. Business users need more information faster to make timely and effective decisions in today's volatile cutthroat global business environment, IT leaders say.

Further, the recession has forced companies to lay off or at least put a freeze on hiring more IT staff or business analysts, forcing everyone to do more with less, says Jim Kobielus, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

Scott Baker
"We needed to get data into the hands of users in departments like sales, finance and budgeting, and give them tools so they could analyze data themselves," says Scott Baker, OraSure's manager of SAP systems.

As a result, many IT staffs face a growing backlog of information requests from increasingly frustrated end users. But self-service features such as browser-based interfaces, interactive graphics, drop-down lists and software guides can help. They buffer less technical end users from the complexities of the underlying data infrastructure. This frees up IT managers from having to "spend an inordinate amount of time" responding to user requests for new data, new views, or updated report formats, Kobielus says.

Take OraSure Technologies, Inc. Prior to implementing self-service BI, the medical device maker's two-person data group couldn't keep up with end users' information demands, according to Scott Baker, OraSure's manager of SAP systems. "We needed to get data into the hands of users in departments like sales, finance and budgeting, and give them tools so they could analyze data themselves," he says. "We used to create standard reports, and people were always saying they needed more information, this but not that."

Reports that IT doesn't have to do

End users at OraSure can now create their own "dashboards on the fly," using SAP BusinessObjects' self-service system, Edge, Baker says. BusinessObjects' Explorer module "lets you select the filters and data you want, and then presents it to you graphically." End users can also create reports using SAP Crystal Reports or Microsoft Excel.

"BusinessObjects is good at buffering users from the technical layer," Baker says. For example, users "don't see [data] field definitions but terms they work with in their jobs, like 'quantity shipped.'"

The payback? A huge increase in the number of end users, who have generated over 160 reports themselves, Baker says. "That's 160 reports the IT group didn't have to generate."

Self-service BI isn't just for the "average" end user with limited technical and analytical expertise, says Forrester Research vice president Boris Evelson. Business analysts need to do predictive analytics, multidimensional querying and data mining. Knowledge workers and power users want to generate their own reports and views, and do ad-hoc querying. Self-service BI platforms enable them to do this while shielding them from the underlying data infrastructure, so they don't have to keep asking IT for help.



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