Setting Up Self-Service BI

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-03-02 Print this article Print


But implementing a self-service or do-it-yourself BI system is easier said than done. The reasons are obvious: BI doesn't exist in a vacuum-it has to be collected, formatted and made available to the person who needs it. In addition, there needs to be some sort of query mechanism so that you can formulate the questions and send the queries somewhere to be answered. Finally, you need to format the answers in a way that makes sense, whether it's in graphical form or as a set of tables. All of these activities require somebody in the IT department to set things up so that you can do your self-service BI. Depending on your data warehouse and your company policies, this may include preparing reports in advance that you can draw from, or it might mean providing access to data from outside organizations. But in whatever form, it doesn't happen on its own.

"One of the frontiers of self-service BI goes beyond that to where the user can bring massive amounts of information into their own BI client so they can do complex visualizations within Excel and Web 2.0-enabled browsers. It's 'data mining light' with complex visualizations and custom views," Kobielus explained. "There's more than that. There are new tools like QlikView, and Tibco with Spotfire. They offer in-memory BI clients that offer a very strong browser-based visualization tool. They bring data from your in-house data warehouse and external data. They have the ability to bring millions of rows of relational data without having to go back to the server. PowerPivot does much the same thing with Excel, SharePoint, Internet Explorer and SQL Server reporting services."

Tony Murabito, CIO of Cubist Pharmaceuticals, makers of the antibiotic Cubicin, has found Tibco's Spotfire to be invaluable in providing the fast-reaction BI that is critical to success in his industry. "We've started to leverage it across the business," Murabito said. His executives use it to "track drug information and perform pharmaco vigilance and to give the staff the ability to drill into data, [and extend Spotfire] to our quality department to use with the CAPA system (corrective and preventative action), and basically we're looking to use this across the organization."

Murabito said he started seeing results almost from the first use of Spotfire in the company's commercial area. "One of the earliest 'ahas' was when we went to analyze our speaker events. We wanted to understand the effectiveness of these events. We were able to determine that depending on the mixture of attendees we had a better result from those events. When we brought a mixture of attendees at events, it created a better dynamic and it improved sales."

Cubist uses Spotfire to disclose data relationships following events such as mock drug recalls, and even to motivate the sales force. In addition, Murabito has formed a group of power users he calls the "Discovery Shop" that looks for new ways to use analyze data from a wide variety of biological agents.

But of course there's more than one way to skin a data warehouse. Or in the case of Ayad Shammout-the lead database administrator for the CareGroup Health System, which is the network of teaching hospitals for the Harvard Medical School-a lot of data warehouses. "Initially we started implementing BI at the Deaconess Medical Center," Shammout said. "We have many data warehouses. We had BI by using custom reports developed internally using excel and SQL analysis. A problem was how to bring the information to the desktop of the data analyst. They don't really understand the technology."

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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