self-service business intelligence (BI) definition

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: DIY BI: A guide to self-service business intelligence implementation

Self-service business intelligence (SSBI) is an approach to data analytics that enables business users to access and work with corporate information without the IT department’s involvement (except, of course, to set up the data warehouse and data marts underpinning the business intelligence (BI) system and deploy the self-service query and reporting tools).

The self-service approach lets end users create personalized reports and analytical queries while freeing up IT staffers to focus on other tasks – potentially benefiting both groups. Because self-service BI software is used by people who may not be tech-savvy, however, it is imperative that the user interface must be intuitive and easy to use. Ideally, the IT department should help users understand what data is available for BI uses by providing a metadata dictionary at the business layer level. This will help end users to focus on the meaning of the data in the BI system, not the technology itself.

Self-service BI capabilities should be built with a business focus from the start. Training, on both the data and the self-service applications, is critical for getting business workers up-to-speed on how they can use the information in the BI system. While self-service BI encourages users to base decisions on data instead of intuition, it creates the risk of chaotic reporting within an organization. To mitigate that risk, IT should work with business units to determine key metrics and an agreed-upon vocabulary,  processes for creating reports and publishing, what privileges are necessary for access to confidential data and how to define and implement data security policies and privacy policies.

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This was first published in April 2012

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