Self-service Business Intelligence is often thought of as a way of cutting IT costs. But instead, self-service BI should be thought of as a powerful tool for accelerating the speed of business, helping managers to identify and respond rapidly to situations requiring intervention.
It’s an easy mistake to make, of course. In today’s lean and stretched organisations, self-service BI offers finance directors and IT departments an enormous prize in terms of IT productivity. The logic: instead of having the IT function generate reports and query screens, let users themselves specify and build the reports and dashboards that they need.
At a stroke, the workload on IT is eased, IT is free to focus on more strategic matters, and users feel empowered to seek out for themselves the critical information and insights that they need. In short, it’s a win-win-win situation—and one that happily delivers a boost to the bottom line.
But that’s only part of the story. There is a much more compelling argument for including self-service BI as part of your business intelligence strategy.
And it’s this: self-service BI accelerates the speed of business, by alerting key managers to situations where intervention is required, and providing them with the tools to drill down into the data, and determine what has gone wrong, how it’s gone wrong, and why it’s gone wrong.
Better, faster, more effective
Armed with that information, they can then speedily set about putting it right—keeping customers and top management happy, and without waiting for the IT function to produce routine reports. Reports that would have provided a warning far too late to enable effective action to be taken.
But that faster business won’t happen by accident. It can’t happen without self-service BI—but self-service BI is the enabler, and not a magic bullet. You have to change mindsets, as well.
The good news: with the right mindset, business becomes not just fast, but more productive.
1) Self-service BI starts at the top
Giving middle managers self-service BI won’t of itself encourage them to use it. Particularly when it involves mastering new skills—for however easy a business intelligence system is to use, any new system involves a learning curve.
So for top management, the moral is to get ahead of the game, and lead by example. Use self-service BI to find those situations where things are going wrong—and then ask awkward and pointed questions about how they went wrong.
You won’t be thanked, of course. But middle managers will surely know that there’s a new tool in play, and that they’d better learn how to exploit it to make sure things don’t go wrong. Before their bosses do.
2) Self-service BI empowers drill-down
As any child knows, ‘Why?’ can be a compellingly powerful question. And in business, it’s not asked enough.
In fact, look closely at business initiatives such as kaizen, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management, and what you’ll see are simply codified systems for asking ‘Why?’
And with that information, people can finally understand the root causes behind events—or ‘root cause analysis’, in the jargon.
In a business intelligence system, root cause analysis through drill-down has never been easier—and with self-service BI, users can drill-down to identify root causes faster than ever before.
Thereby making business not just faster, but better and more effective.
3) Self-service BI and the right KPIs
It’s a fact: too many KPIs come from a paper-based era. They’re ‘after the event’, reporting-style metrics, intended as scoreboard metrics—and not action items.
And deploying such metrics as KPIs acts as a brake on the faster business. When you want to press on the accelerator, half your foot is pressing down on the brake, instead.
What to do? Choose the right metrics as KPIs, in short. KPIs which prompt action, not reflection. KPIs which point directly to situations that managers can get their arms around, and do something.
Such as? Here’s an example.
“Percentage of orders shipped on time= 97%.” That’s a useful metric, you might think. And it is. But it’s oriented towards self-congratulation, rather than action.
Instead, how about:
“Days late on oldest overdue order= 4.” Cripes! We’ve got an order that’s four days late! Which order—and what’s the problem? Let’s go find out.
See the difference?