Business intelligence tools were once the domain of only business analysts with the quantitative and analytics backgrounds to make full use of BI capabilities. And only those with a specific set of skills could access and take advantage of these tools.
Self-service BI tools, however, are changing the game, offering better ease of use, providing insights to more types of users and creating a single source of truth for organizations.
Here are the top four self-service BI benefits for enterprises.
Self-service BI is easy to use
Traditional BI tools are too difficult for most users, said Joe Tobolski, CTO at Nerdery, a digital services consultancy.
"There's a reason that Excel is the number one data analytics tool out there," he said. "People know how to use it."
One way BI is getting easier is that it's being embedded into platforms employees already use and are comfortable with. For example, a human resources system might have built-in analytics to predict how likely an employee is to stay with the company, Tobolski said.
"We're doing that already," he said. "Our own system that we use at Nerdery talks about propensity to stay."
New self-service BI systems are a major advance over traditional, standalone BI, said Doug Henschen, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.
Traditional BI platforms were maintained primarily by IT departments and data professionals.
"These legacy BI products presented IT bottlenecks," Henschen said. "They stood in the way of broad adoption and of rapid development of new reports and analyses."
Self-service BI capabilities allow more users access to data and insights, but BI still isn't as pervasive as it could be -- or should be -- according to Henschen.
"Complexity remains a barrier to adoption, particularly for untrained business users," he said.
The next generation of BI is using machine learning and natural language understanding to improve usability, or augmented analytics.
Augmentation will extend BI to even more users, Henschen said. But data professionals will also benefit, since augmentation speeds up data preparation, analysis and predictive work.
"Ultimately, and most importantly, it will lead to better data-driven decision-making," he said.
Ease of use can also translate into speed of use.
With traditional business analytics, decision-makers often have to wait to get the reports they need, said Asha Aravindakshan, vice president of customer delight and operations at Sprinklr, a customer experience management company.
"The data can be lagging indicators of what is going on in the business," she said.
Sprinklr takes advantage of the self-service BI built into the SaaS software it uses. According to Aravindakshan, employees now have leading indicators available to help them make real-time, data-driven decisions. She expects the functionality to keep improving with the addition of more intelligence to self-service business intelligence.
Self-service BI benefits include bringing analytics to the people who need it most. It allows access to professionals working in operations, risk management, compliance, engineering and risk and development, said Kamlesh Mhashilkar, head of the data and analytics practice, analytics and insights at Tata Consultancy Services.
Business users are driving the adoption of self-service BI, Mhashilkar said.
One company that has seen some self-service BI benefits for a wide range of users is BlueVolt, which helps manufacturers deliver online training to customers on how to use their products.
By adding self-service BI to its platform, performance data is now accessible to BlueVolt's own employees, its manufacturing customers and platform end users learning how to use tools and equipment.
Manufacturers need to know whether training is working or not because it directly impacts sales, said BlueVolt vice president Gaven Singh, who oversees company strategy.
Individual end users might want to see their own progress, or what courses are recommended for them to take next.
These analytics also benefit BlueVolt employees. Account managers can see what strategies work best for their clients so they can make recommendations to help their customers get more value from the platform.
"There is some version of analytics for every type of user that you can see on our system," Singh said.
Companies get value from their data
Analytics can help companies uncover untapped revenue and find new business opportunities. According to a 2020 Forrester survey of 900 global business leaders, data-driven companies are 58% more likely to beat their revenue goals than non-data-driven companies.
But nearly half of surveyed companies said they fail to routinely use data to guide business decisions. For that to happen, the data has to be accessible and available, and accessibility is one of the biggest self-service BI benefits for employees.
According to a 2020 Harvard Business Review survey, 87% of business executives said their companies are more successful when frontline workers are empowered to make important decisions -- but only 20% are actually empowering them with data. The rest say they need better tools to be able to do that.
In particular, 54% said they expect front-line employees to use self-service analytics within the next two years.
"Data is the lifeblood for many successful organizations," said Jon Knisley, principal for automation and process excellence at FortressIQ, a process intelligence software company. "Self-service BI is the next major step."