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5 pitfalls of self-service BI

Thor Olavsrud | Oct. 23, 2017
Self-service business intelligence offers many benefits, but bringing analytics and reporting closer to business units by bypassing IT can have unintended — and costly — consequences.

"Self-service is faster than the queue for IT," Aziza says. "But it's small thinking for big data. It works for you and it works for your business unit. But it's just a matter of time before it's not able to scale to the need you have."

"IT is thinking long-term and thinking about the future more than a lot of business units that are just trying to solve a problem," Mariani adds. "But the business hates that centralized model because they don't want to queue up and they don't trust that IT is going to be able to deliver them what they need in a timeframe that is acceptable. At Yahoo, it took me a month to add one new dimension to look at display ads. The business can't wait a month."

Consider an apparel retailer. It can use self-service BI to perform analysis for a single brand. That may provide useful insights quickly, but the retailer knows its customers shop across multiple properties and brands. And if each business unit is working with its own definitions and metrics, scaling analytics across multiple brands becomes a Herculean task.

Once you reach this point, IT typically needs to step in to apply order to the mess, and the agility you've gained through self-service BI often takes a severe hit.


5. License costs add up

At the end of the day, self-service BI often costs more than the centralized technology it replaced. First, there's the technology cost: Each of your business units will need to buy licenses for their preferred BI tools, and you'll lose out on the economics of scale you benefit from when buying for the entire organization. Then again, allowing business users to work with their preferred tools may be worth that cost. Beyond the technology cost, though, there's also the cost in human labor.

"It definitely costs more," Mariani says. "You can't get economies of scale if you let the business roll their own. And human labor is an issue. You basically have to distribute that knowledge. You need people out in the business to understand that whole stack to do it right. That's a tough ask, especially if it's not their primary job."


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