If you ask any given group of executives what they'd really like in a business intelligence product, the wish list would look a lot like the description of Cosmic AC, the universe-spanning computer in Isaac Asimov's classic short story, "The Last Question." Cosmic AC contained all knowledge and could answer any question it was asked. After the first couple of releases, the IT department wasn't involved.
And that is what the executives in many companies want-to have their business questions answered immediately, and without needing to involve the IT department to formulate the questions and provide the reports. In short, they want to be able to draw data from a wide variety of sources and use that data to discover relationships that were previously unsuspected, but which can impact their businesses, and to do it immediately by simply asking the right question.
Sadly for those of us forced to face the world without the services of an all-knowing, hyperspace-dwelling computer (only the NSA is allowed to have those), getting real BI can be a chore. In traditional settings, it means getting the IT department to set up specialized database queries that comb through your data warehouse and produce reports. But as useful as those reports are, they don't reflect real-time information needs. For that, there needs to be a way for managers to find data whether it's inside or outside the company and run their own queries. In short, they need to do it themselves.
"I think it's where the whole industry is going," explained James Kobielus, an analyst in Forrester Research's IT Client Group. "Users want to do self-service BI."
Kobielus said while the massive reports of traditional BI have their uses, they don't lead to fast reactions. "It's all about decision support, ad hoc queries and dashboards." The ability to get immediate answers from diverse information results in businesspeople making better decisions, he argued. "They want to improve decision support more quickly. They want a personalized view of decision support, they want to grab the data they need and not be distracted by extraneous data. Self-service BI enables that."
Kobielus also noted that moving to self-service BI lightens the load on the IT staff. "You're taking a big workload off of the IT group. The big task is implementing the data warehouse. Building reports and report formats, maintaining them, [and] adding columns and fields," he said.