One trend that continues to gain momentum in the BI world is self service business intelligence, and it has IT groups concerned that the whole focus of a BI team is to champion a single version of the truth. MicroStrategy just released it’s desktop application for free, and version 10.6 is now available. If you have not taken a look at it, it is worth spending some time on. Tableau has built virtually it’s entire business model on self service BI. Any department that can’t get enough resources from the BI team can go and build their own dashboards now. Qlik is the same way. Now Microsoft’s Power BI has stepped into the ring with a growing offering. Alteryx, Sisense, Birst, Zoho – all of these are pouring resources into self service BI. IT groups are running scared, and maybe rightly so. Self service BI doesn’t have to have any training, any experience, any skill sets, any data governance, any single vision of what the single version of the truth is supposed to look like. Power to the people. Democratizing data like never before. Gartner is even saying that this is going to be the death of BI.
Or is it? People have always gone outside of the BI or the IT teams to build reports and analysis. It’s called Excel, or Access, and its been around for, oh I don’t know, a few decades? I’ve seen entire departments run from Excel and Access applications. You can’t stop them from using these. I’ve seen desktop computers that used to belong to an enterprising employee 10 years ago, that built an Access application that became mission critical to a department, and the department has seen the employees turnover two or three times in that period. Nobody remembers who the original developers were, or even what it was running, but each newly appointed department head got the instructions to make sure that desktop computer remained powered on under their desk and hooked up to the network. God help them is this computer dies or something. And these scenarios are a nightmare for IT groups that get handed to them to support – but you cannot stop it. Much like that Jeff Goldblum line from Jurassic Park – Life finds a way.
These new tools just give the enterprising users a new means to create things that BI teams or IT groups are going to have to support. They are given tasks to run the business, and then the BI group doesn’t have the time or means to provide them the reports or analysis they need to meet those new milestones that leadership keeps placing on them. And, nobody likes a whiner, so they invent what they need outside of the process. Business is happy. Users are happy. IT is blissfully unaware. All they know is that they stopped emailing them asking for a status on their request and didn’t even miss the emails. Is this really such a bad thing? I mean, if the BI team built every single thing the business thought it needs to run then they would collapse under their own weight. Rather than cringing at these outlaw scenarios, if you look at them as a proof of concept exercise, and let the POCs that live life past a year or some determined amount of time that proves the reasoning and the needs were real, then really everyone who does these are helping out the BI team.
Rather than seeing these activities as competition or amorphous growth that cannot be supported, BI teams should looking to guiding these rogues in a way that helps keep some sanity to possibly taking over the project when it has matured. Choosing one self service BI tool and embracing it, training on it, training others on it, would be a much better alternative than leaving it up to the department and needing expertise on 5 or 6 different tools de jour. For one, it enables you to hire or train a resource for the BI team to assist users in developing their own projects and for taking over projects that have grown to big to be a department only project. Secondly, it provides some consistency to the rogue POCs so that the company looks like it knows what it is doing. Third, taking the lead to facilitate this movement means BI and IT can guide the company down the path to some degree, rather than being handed who knows what to support. Don’t fight the tidal wave. Grab it, embrace it, lead it. Sticking your head in the sand is never a good strategy.