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Is self-service BI realistic?

by Davin Wilfrid

January 25, 2011

by Davin Wilfrid, insiderRESEARCH

The sales pitch for fully-featured, enterprise-ready BI applications (including SAP BusinessObjects) typically includes a demo or slide series on the value of self-service for BI. Business users, the pitch goes, can dive right into these tools and create their own reports and dashboards with little or no training -- presumably while the IT and BI teams are drinking Pina Coladas out back with the CEO.

This article in Computerworld argues that self-service BI is the next big thing, citing a handful of success stories and a Gartner report that discussed the business side's desire for advanced analytical tools.

While this may all be true, I think it's time to come up with a realistic definition of what "self-service" means. Our new report "The SAP BI Roadmap: Perceptions, challenges, and opportunities for SAP customers," found that in many SAP companies, technical, IT, business and BI analysts were the only job roles among which a majority could create their own BI reports or applications. Executives, operational users, and casual users were still heavily dependent on IT to deliver BI to them. Those who have upgraded to the more "user-friendly" applications from SAP BusinessObjects fared only slightly better, with results only a few percentage points from the overall group (see charts below). 

Also, most respondents (62.6%) said their end users did not have the skills necessary to get the most out of SAP BusinessObjects applications. Those who have moved onto SAP BusinessObjects reported nearly identical results.

So what does this mean for SAP's customers? For one thing, it is certainly true that business users can get more out of SAP BusinessObjects applications than they could using BEx tools. However, a strict definition of self-service would require the business to, say, create their own data universes within the SAP BusinessObjects semantic layer before configuring reports or views within SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence.

Most experts say this is unrealistic, to put it mildly. Business users will likely never understand the data enough to perform this type of task.

So instead of pure self-service, most IT teams will still need to define business requirements and deliver a BI framework that business users can then customize to meet their own needs. As one expert said during the research on this report, "it's really about giving the business their own views, not their own applications."

There is a lot of value to be had in giving the business a chance to slice and dice data at will, but let's agree that the term "self-service" should be taken with a grain of salt.

Download the complete report here

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