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What Self-Service Business Intelligence Is and How to Use It

October 9, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227912

Q: How does self-service business intelligence make me smarter?

A: With a name like self-service business intelligence, you'd be forgiven for thinking this concerns DIY corporate espionage. But the term describes analytics, in a powerful form that doesn't involve hassling your IT, accounting or sales staffs to pull the information for you.

Let's say you run a small retail chain and need to understand, in real time, how each store is performing relative to its daily revenue goals. A self-service BI tool provides that data without you having to wrangle it from your point-of-sale system's software.

BI is big business for enterprise-level companies, with related software sales amounting to $13.1 billion in 2012, according to technology research and consulting firm Gartner. But to understand why self-service BI should matter to SMBs, we tapped Josh James, founder and CEO of Utah-based Domo, which has built a cloud-based BI platform geared toward company decision-makers.

When should I use self-Service BI?
Most businesses are already using some kind of self-service BI, in the form of spreadsheets or reporting capabilities found within popular business software applications such as Excel and cloud-based offerings from Salesforce.com. Problem is, the avalanche of data you use to run your company is parked in silos and has limited context on its own, which makes it difficult to view a complete picture of your business.

What gets lost with this lack of a complete picture?
A lot! When I was at [analytics company] Omniture, there was a time when customers in Japan were hesitating to renew their contracts, and we couldn't figure out why. Turns out we were conducting scheduled maintenance during Japan's business day. So our systems weren't available when these customers needed them most.

At the time, we had no easy way to see the connection between contract negotiations and a system maintenance schedule. However, by using a current version of self-service BI to bring these separate data sources into one comprehensive view of the business, we could have saved valuable time renewing contracts and kept our customers happier.

What tools should businesses use to manage self-service BI?
There are conventional enterprise tools available from vendors such as SAP (Business Objects) and IBM (Cognos), which require that your data be significantly manipulated before it can be leveraged. Cloud-based solutions such as Domo sit on top of multiple data sources--including spreadsheets, online CRM, marketing, HR and finance programs--and offer a comprehensive, real-time view of your business in one place.

How do I choose one?
Your task is to decide what's important to measure, a decision that can be overwhelming. I advise people to start with three business problems they want to address, whether they think the data is available or not. Once identified, it becomes easier to zero in on the specific metrics to track that will root out the cause and then the solutions to the problems. Then find a BI program that will allow you to pull together those data points in one place.