As a result, "we definitely reduced our losses from bad loans and didn't start to see a negative effect until the very end of 2008," about six months later than competitors, she estimates.
One key factor driving the self-service BI market is the rapidly growing volume and complexity of data needed to make decisions. In today's volatile and cutthroat global business environment, business users need more information than ever, and they need it faster than ever.
Further, the recession has forced companies to lay off or stop hiring IT staffers and business analysts, forcing everyone to do more with less, says Jim Kobielus, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.
As a result, many IT staffs face growing backlogs of information requests from increasingly frustrated end users. But self-service features such as browser-based interfaces, interactive graphics, drop-down lists and software guides can help. They buffer less-technical end users from the complexities of the underlying data infrastructure. This frees up IT professionals from having to spend "an inordinate amount of time" responding to requests for new data, new views or updated report formats, Kobielus says.
Consider the case of OraSure Technologies Inc. Before turning to self-service BI, the medical device maker's two-person data team couldn't keep up with end users' information demands, according to Scott Baker, Bethlehem, Pa.-based OraSure's manager of SAP systems. "We needed to get data into the hands of users in departments like sales, finance and budgeting, and give them tools so they could analyze data themselves," he says. "We used to create standard reports, and people were always saying they needed more information -- this but not that."
End users at OraSure can now create their own dashboards "on the fly," using SAP BusinessObjects' self-service system, Edge, Baker says. And BusinessObjects' Explorer module "lets you select the filters and data you want, and then presents it to you graphically," he says. End users can also create reports using SAP Crystal Reports or Microsoft Excel.
"BusinessObjects is good at buffering users from the technical layer," Baker says. For example, users "don't see [data] field definitions but terms they work with in their jobs, like 'quantity shipped.' "
The payback? End users have generated more than 160 reports themselves, Baker says. "That's 160 reports the IT group didn't have to generate," he adds.
A Broad User Base