The current state of our economy is also impacting IT budgets. That’s a fact that nobody can deny. At the same time the need for relevant information has increased considerably. Organizations are more and more focusing on their customer and need supporting data. That is another fact. As a result IT is reconsidering its position (back to the core?) whilst the business is waiting for the much needed report or analysis. This need for faster time to information and less IT involvement has given rise to something that is often called Business or Self Service Reporting (SSR). Traditionally BI reports are created by the IT department. SSR allows business users to do this for themselves using end user oriented query and reporting tools.
This might sound like a radical new way of delivering information but it is nothing new. Gartner for example has always placed the report writing function in the business part of the BICC. What is different now is that the tools have become more intuitive and easy to work with. Business users, albeit power users, can build their own reports with a relative ease. IT responsibilities for SSR are limited, or should I say focused, on delivering the quality data on time. Which is not bad considering the lower budgets. Another great thing about letting business user build their own reports is that it improves the quality of the requirements (no more misunderstandings) and the setting of priorities (they will probably build what the need the most first). So it really sounds like a win-win situation and often it is just that. But… there is a down side to this as well. This down side is obviously not often mentioned by the SSR vendors as most try to position themselves as the rescuers of the free BI movement. Their message is simple: Self service good, old BI bad. However by spreading the report function across various lines of business a dilution of knowledge arises which is often strengthened by the information silos that are created. In a way it is back to the old days with the business (intelligence) silos across the company. Did I hear somebody say: single version of the truth? And the IT department also has a hard time in monitoring the use of the report function and keeping the performance on an acceptable level.
So how can we do something to solve these problems? One way is to make the SSR a little bit more IT monitored by setting up a ‘managed’ self service environment. Another solution would be to create an organization structure to support these changes. This would be something like a BICC but more business orientated. A third possibility would be to limit the SSR to a certain kind or reporting. When there is a need for fast time to information or when there is a high need for business involvement SSR is the way to go. All other reports are created in some sort of central function. A hybrid solution can even arise where personal or self service reports become centrally maintained standard reports in time, thus solving the single version challenge. But most important is to have a good data set to work with. Good meaning: unified definitions, strong data quality. Also I would advise all business users to follow a course on how to best visualize their data. That’s probably even more important than understanding all the buttons in your tool.
Self Service Reporting can be a great thing. It will decrease the time to information for many people which is much needed in these roaring times. However SSR must always be implemented and positioned in a way that its benefits will not create concerns for others involved. Always keep the impact of SSR on your information architecture in mind while seeking for quick solutions.