42-47170067-cLumira CLouidThe idea of self-service business intelligence (BI) being at the core of the BI promise (to transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes) is now back at the top of the BI industry headlines. Should you ignore the buzz and just go on with your business? You shouldn’t.

First, let’s get the semantics out of the way – self service is an approach to BI that lets business users access and work with corporate information without the IT department’s involvement. For the most part, people agree with the two fundamental ideas: “more autonomy for the users” and “as little IT involvement as possible.” And those are not new concepts.

Go back to December 22, 1997 and read the first SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence press release. It talks about self-service access to data and not having to submit development requests to IS!

So why has self-service BI grabbed news headlines consistently since 2012? After all, it’s not a new concept. Why is self-service BI still making news?

    1. Technological advancements. Moore’s law might not be what it used to be, but servers, PCs, mobile phones, and tablets are packing more transistors per dollar than ever. Software engineers have learned how to take advantage of them and essentially reduce the query time to a non-factor – innovative systems capable of storing and crunching on the spot all the data you ever need, beautiful user interfaces representing data graphically no matter how big the data set, and fluid interactions with the data. No more waiting!
    2. User expectations have changed. People don’t have two sets of expectations when it comes to software – one for business applications and another one for all those ‘apps’ they used in their life outside of work (and often during work!). Business people are expecting the same simplicity, the same elegance, the same responsive user interfaces in their business applications. And if their expectations aren’t met, they’ll likely forgo using the company-sanctioned BI tools and go ‘rogue’ with a new one their nephew has told them about.
    3. Speed is the new mantra. “Significantly increase your speed, and you can reach new, possibly more profitable realms ahead of competitors,” stated CIO Magazine back in July 2013. Not only do you need to be on top of the traditional metrics (think reports and dashboards), but you must also dig into all the available corporate data and find the hidden opportunities, the hidden costs, and so on. And  you need this insight in the next hour. Yikes!

Agile Visualization – Simplifying the User Experience

Enter agile visualization – the “newer” face of self-service BI. At its core, the agile visualization promise is similar to what you have heard before – more autonomy for the business users and limited involvement from IT. Now wait, the story doesn’t end here.

Agile visualization brings to the mix a simpler user experience, one that uses crisp visualizations to convey knowledge and information and helps tell stories (like how your sales team “crushed” the last quarter).

Pierre's GraphicImage: Building stories in SAP Lumira

Is agile visualization the one-stop solution to all your information needs? Probably not, but best-in-class companies are already adopting agile visualization in combination with traditional BI and are reporting greater BI success. Seventy-five percent of better performing organizations deploy data visualizations as part of their BI environment compared to only 41% in companies with less growth. (View the infographic.).

Are other factors at play? Maybe, but I recommend not staying on the sidelines. Don’t wait any longer – instead,  start now with three easy things: