You may face a similar scenario to this one. You are the manager of a small business analytics group. Your team is both talented and dedicated, however the volume of BI requests from your organization far outweigh the resources you have. As more investment is occurring in automated processes such as EMR systems in healthcare or trying to capture clicks on a corporate website, the folks at the C-level have discovered the value of this data and want instantaneous access to summarized, meaningful information. And they want it now.
All of us have faced doing more with less. And it is certainly a smidge easier with something like the SAS EBI platform and other solutions in our toolset. But there is still only so many hours in the day.
In the SAS Voices blog today, Ritu Jain wrote an article about Self-Service BI and its value for small to medium sized organizations. It was a timely piece since many projects we have worked on have implemented a self-service BI approach to varying results.
Why such a variable return on our efforts? The reasons are numerous. For projects that have been successful in employing self-service BI, there are the following commonalities:
The herculean efforts of data analysts, BI developers and administrators will yield few fruit unless the efforts to build self-service BI are not championed by someone with political will and clout. For example, many individual departments want access to their own OLAP cubes, either through Excel or EG. The BI champion sees the organization in a different light than the rest of us at the ground level. They attend the meetings and know all of the stakeholders. Self-service BI is freed up by eliminating silo efforts for departments and understanding what is in the data and who can benefit.
We have seen some great self-service champions in our work. This is a person who attends BI tech meetings, requirements gathering sessions or other meetings in spite of a busy schedule. When developers understand the business needs better, we can build a better BI lineage which is critical to a truly functional self-service BI lineage creation.
The champion can also communicate data quality challenges to the c-level as well. This is a key element to success so individual departments will buy in and invest in a self-service effort.
You all have seen this. We are walking past a downtown shop and a growing group of people are gathered at the storefront window peering inside. We feel the urge to stop and look at what all the fuss is about. This is the same with self-service BI.
A small group can do wonders with BI tools like SAS. However, we need buy-in from individual departments within the organization to make this truly work. Why?
The answer is simple. On many projects, we viewed growing SAS BI as an organic process. We identified key stakeholders within a department for a particular BI project they wanted, and bring in the subject matter experts (usually a data analyst dedicated to that department). Often data analysts are diffuse within an organization and it’s difficult to communicate. Self-service BI brings departmental investment to a project, where that organizations analyst is enlisted at the requirements stage. Once a cube is built, BI content added to the portal, perhaps a scorecard developed in SAS Strategy Management, the group works to bring them into the fold.
In our experience, a formalized BI curriculum for new users of BI can work wonders for growing self-service BI. This ensures that new users have the capability to help themselves when working with data in the warehouse, or some of the BI tools now available to them. Programs like this include internal certification of new users which is a great way to make them feel a part of the group after an intensive learning program.
Your group may be small, but getting more people in other departments involved with BI at the requirements stages or earlier, you have the ability to grow beyond traditional departmental staffing limits.
At a more mature state of self-service BI within an organization, we have seen the concept of embedding an analyst from a BI Centre of Excellence or other aptly named group within a department to work with new users. Sometimes this is a challenge due to resource constraints but the payoff can be substantial.
Embedding a BI developer or analyst within a department that has recently adopted BI obviously helps to strengthen its usage by educating new users. What it also does is help to evaluate the action-ability of BI deliverables like a balanced scorecard, a web entry form or a dashboard. Some questions that often surface:
- Who uses the application?
- What are some of the common workarounds to enhance the output of a report?
- Do users export data to Excel for presentation?
- Is this deliverable even used?
After learning how a department uses BI, we can bring this information back to improve requirements gathering and the BI content we develop for the organization. Monitoring logs works too, but often the more personal approach leads to increased buy-in and user understanding.
These are just a few key examples of leveraging self-service BI with a limited number of people. How does your organization define “self-service”? What are some of the challenges you faced in implementing this with SAS or another BI platform tool?