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Self-Service BI Less Challenging for IT Than Traditional BI?

Blog | | By Ashish Tergaonkar

In the recent past, there is a lot of buzz around the words like ‘analytics’, ‘information-mining’, ‘business intelligence’. Various management consulting and market research firms have come up with their theories of classifying these tools and technologies. In a nutshell, these tools are helping businesses grow by deciphering the information in a form that could provide some insights. A lot of the technology vendors are trying to make tools usable by the businesses directly which could deplete (and not eliminate, yet!) the technology teams’ interference. This spawns a classification of tools either as traditional BI which is more conventional in their use and self-service BI which are more business friendly.

Although the later set of tools is not overly dependent on technology teams, they still need some form a minimalistic support which could reduce as the businesses become increasingly analytics mature. However, during these times, the technology teams have varied challenges and caveats to keep in mind. A debate which most of the practitioners of traditional BI tend to engage in is that the self-service BI comes with reduced number of challenges. Most argue that the self-service tools are ‘drag-n-drop’, and are like a ‘black-box’ which do not give a complete control of the data and its depiction. However, I feel that the challenges are different and complicated in the self-service space.

Syntactic Versus Semantic?

Imagine if you are asked to write a composition in a foreign language. The first challenge for you would be to learn the syntax or the grammar and the vocabulary of the language. Now, would you be able to spend enough time on semantics or the logic and content of the composition? Same applies to the world of traditional tools. Most of them have syntactical complications which effectively reduces the time analysts and data scientists get to unearth the insights.                                     

Is ‘Black-Box’ All That Derogatory?

Analytics, as all of us know, is a complicated business and the complexities must be handled ‘somewhere’. Let us rewind ourselves a few decades when we had the invention of Graphical User Interface (GUI) which allowed users to interact with the electronic devices (including but not limited to computers). GUI essentially was an early predecessor of any self-service system. The invention of GUI could have been belittled by just treating it as a wrapper around the Command-Line Interfaces. In a way, this can be treated as, not a belittled but a simplified introduction of GUI. But, because of this ‘wrapper’, the scientists could focus on many other challenges of the real-world computing and electronic design. Same holds true for self-service technologies!

Focusing Information Consumption

Per an article published in May 2016 on a Northeastern University blog, around 2.5 Exabytes of data is produced every day. The question is how much of this is analyzed and consumed? With the advent of self-service BI, the focus is shifting toward information consumption than information generation.

Empowering The Users

The most important challenge that comes with self-service technologies is to empower the users to own their data. Although some self-service tools create an ‘app-like’ interface, to unleash the real power of the software, users need to be educated. These tools are not ‘plug-n-play’, which can be deployed and be used instantaneously. They need a lot of planning and preparation before users can start using them.

Coding Is Big-Boys’ Game!

Some practitioners of traditional tools take a pride in playing with the syntactical complexities. Unfortunate but true! However, is it the real complexity? Self-service tools come with their own set of challenges which not only focus on the above-mentioned facts of getting the precise and consumable data but also depicting it in a manner which is aesthetically pleasing and user focused. Also, the depletion of IT has been varied depending upon the phases ranging from data preparation to visualization. IT still plays a vital role in modeling the data and controlling the access and I am sure there would be new challenges when these challenges are eliminated. Only if we choose to accept the new once, though!

To summarize, self-service does not mean a ‘game-over’ for IT. It just means that the complexities have changed. The advent of these new challenges gives a chance to the IT to re-invent themselves to unravel new challenges. 

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Ashish Tergaonkar
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