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Want to build a successful self-service BI project? Here’s 3 top tips to get you moving

February 19, 2019

Scott Duthie Senior BI Consultant at Pomerol Partners

In this age of information overload, we’ve become accustomed to having the answers to all our questions at our fingertips. I often find myself getting infuriated by menial inconveniences like a patch of dodgy phone reception slowing me down, or an online payment process that requires more than a few clicks. God forbid I need to move beyond the first page of my Google search or fill out a form and go line up at the DMV, this could spell disaster.

This tide change in our expectations is naturally flowing over into the workplace. Our appetite for information at work is thriving and the companies that can adapt their culture and attitude to information and analytics will be able to service this demand and see a competitive advantage over their peers who are two steps behind.

Enabling your workforce with the information they need to make better business decisions is a win-win, and in today’s business environment that means building a self-service analytics platform. But what’s the secret recipe? Successful BI and analytics projects have similar characteristics, here just a few…


1. Who builds a house without a plan?

Establishing a strong self-service strategy is critical for success but is often underappreciated and overlooked. More than just an ‘idea about where you’re heading and who’s going to participate’, it’s a comprehensive plan mapping out the people, resources and objectives that will drive the project forward and ensure business value is maximized.

Self-service BI projects are often chartering new territory within the organization, so it’s important to maintain an agile and flexible approach so you can deal with the curveballs along the way. However, it’s also critical to recognize that when creating something new, and challenging the norms within an organization, being able to communicate a firm plan is more important than ever.

Get the right people together, and ensure they have the time to dedicate to the initiative. All too often the project team is a winning mix on paper, but competing responsibilities reduces people’s effectiveness and hinders the impact of the team as a whole.

In addition to this, finding the right executive sponsor for your project is critical. They can become a magnet for resources and the best people….


2. Find an executive champion to fly the flag

Finding an executive sponsor is pivotal to creating a successful BI project for a number of reasons. Vision, experience and sway within the organization are all important, but so is the ability for a senior leader to create drive and accountability amongst the project team.

An executive sponsor can help guide change with their wider enterprise perspective, identifying potential bottlenecks or conflicts in advance that may not be seen by other team members. Naturally, the executive is in a better position to eliminate these roadblocks and ensure the path to success is clear. The modern BI project will often challenge traditional IT policy and workflows, so having an executive onboard to help justify and facilitate your demands for change makes a big difference.


3. IT and the business should be buddies

Traditionally, IT was the gatekeeper to all things data. They would analyze and then report to the business, but this left many unanswered questions for the business, and with no ability to dig deeper, the value generated by of this style of reporting was limited.

Moving forward to the first versions of self service, companies tried to reduce the hoops to jump through by providing curated cuts of data to business functions to build their own reporting. This was a step in the right direction but brought with it other issues – inconsistency in views for different business units, and a lack of visibility into the logic that created those views.

Come 2019 and the modern analytics environment see’s IT and the business working in partnership. While still having the overarching responsibility of governance and security, IT’s role is to empower the business to drive the company forward and achieve the strategic goals defined at the top table. A modern approach to analytics combined with the latest tools means security and governance don’t have to be compromised in a direct trade-off to innovation and progress. Modern self-service BI tools have governance baked in, and in many cases the business can be self-sustainable once IT has laid the ground rules. Instead of throttling back the torrent of data, IT can set up guard rails to help navigate and direct the users to success.


Growing up: From data capture to analytics

The last ten years has seen our ability to capture and record information grow exponentially, while the cost of doing so has plummeted. Companies have raced to prop up storage, with traditional databases growing into the ‘data lake’, which in many cases is an understatement, as the lake has grown into an uncharted ocean. Generating value from this ocean of data, and empowering users to take advantage of it, is now the hurdle most companies see before them.

A robust self-service platform channelling useful information to the front line will become the standard within organizations. To add to this, new and innovative tools tackling data pipelines, NoSQL storage and machine learning are also bursting onto the scene and we need solid BI platforms with sound foundations to bolt on to. Data literacy is on the rise and the appetite is there, so time to roll up the sleeves. What more could you want than a hungry customer?