The Dirty Little Lie that is Self Service BI
Self-Service Business Intelligence (BI) is dominated by very large players that rely on their brand name to dupe corporations into spending more than what they needed or investing on overhyped technologies simply because they are the “trend”. Maybe “dupe” is a strong word, but the facts remain that their self-service BI tools are essentially complex by design. It is that complexity that keeps these vendors working closely with their customers and it creates a large ongoing revenue stream.
I know this to be true as I managed very large accounts for some of these top vendors. The sad truth was that despite customers pouring millions into these solutions, they were either underused or completely unused. Customers continued to pay for those expensive but underused BI tools, but at the same time were still stuck with the flawed spreadsheet-backed systems they’d always been using.
Now these industry giants undoubtedly have the resources to build a better mousetrap, yet they refuse to abandon solutions based on faulted/inaccurate ideas of self-service, or have been trying to migrate their existing technical centric BI solutions to the cloud without renovating/replacing the legacy technical infrastructure.
Self-Service BI tools are needed by non-technical business professionals and they need to be the ones who use these tools to customize the analysis and import data. They don’t know how or want to program, don’t understand data warehousing or data modeling. But they have data that they want to analyze in ways that help them to enforce KPI’s that allow them to improve business performance and make better, timely decisions.
Is it possible to build a BI tool for business users to use without programming or a data warehouse? Of course it is. DrivenBI, California-based, fast growing technology firm with a fraction of their resources, has built a self-service BI platform that doesn’t depend on technical resources. It’s not magic, it is a breakthrough. Despite the fact that this model provides enormous advantages in flexibility, access, maintenance, security and productivity, it also means a greatly reduced revenue stream for the brands you may have become loyal to.
Here are the ways that large vendors Tableau, IBM, Oracle, SAP, SAS, Qlik (and most other self-service BI tools) fall short.
Web Access vs. Cloud-Native
When offering a dedicated Windows application for creating dashboards, building analysis (one of the most important steps) has to be done on premises. Although users are typically given the option of sharing analysis, essentially that is just providing web access. If you can believe it, many of these systems have to be installed and maintained on each computer where users need to build analysis. The desktop application, server, and public cloud service are licensed separately which further complicates customer’s adoption process. DrivenBI SRK is built from ground up as a cloud-native platform, so a user only needs an account and a device that can browse the Internet. Responsive UI design throughout the system provides the most optimal user experience across desktop computers and hand-held devices. Everything from building analysis, generating reports, sharing information, to collaborating are all done in the cloud – with one single product.
Just because a vendor claims ease of use, doesn’t mean that it is true. Some are better than others in different stages from the beginning (preparing data) to the end (building analysis and acting upon the findings). It may be easy for the business professionals to use the dashboards built by IT experts, but someone with the necessary technical expertise has to build them first. Building analysis should require no programming. Furthermore, building multi-dimensional analysis should not require a pre-built data warehouse or data model (i.e. OLAP cube) residing in the data source. Most “self-service” BI tools out there, either choose to neglect data processing, requiring source data to be as clean as possible and with data models built beforehand, or are bundled with ETL tools which inevitably get IT involved and fall back to the IT centric BI approach.
Most BI tools put lots of emphasis on producing flashy charts and reports, but abandon the user at the most critical juncture. They have no mechanisms in place to facilitate users taking actions upon the analyzed results. DrivenBI SRK offers its users a powerful Collaboration Hub in the cloud to facilitate a complete end-to-end data analysis and decision-making lifecycle in a centralized and well organized manner. Tasks can be easily created no matter where the user is browsing in the system, with notifications automatically pushed to relevant parties through emails or text messages to remind them in real time that there are actions that need to be taken. Users don’t need to sift through emails or messages to check on the status. All comments, feedbacks, and correspondences are available in the Collaboration Hub which provides a detailed history for tracking and auditing. It also allows parties to upload other related documents to share with one another as well. All of the collaboration activities and contents stay related to the analysis.
When there is the implicit reliance on data modeling, programming, and/or ETL process, and business users want to make changes to their analysis, they will need to contact IT (and hope they understand what is needed). True self-service allows analysis to be customized by the business users who know their data and analysis the best. SRK allows users to create custom home page. So, even though all SRK users are technically using the same platform, their analysis can be customized and packaged as if it is a tailor-made BI solution just for them. Most importantly, all the customization can also be done by users themselves with SRK’s user-friendly customization features, no technical skill is needed.
Ground-based or browser-based BI tools cannot easily compete with SRK’s cloud native infrastructure when it comes to its inherent ability to seamlessly integrate outside data sources including spreadsheets, relational databases, web services, 3rd party cloud-based services, networking devices, and social media. Moreover, SRK itself can also be seamlessly integrated with other cloud service providers – giving the company a major advantage over other BI tool providers. For example, the full-fledged SRK is integrated into Salesforce and shows up as a tab within Salesforce’s own web page. Salesforce users can simply click on the SRK Analytics tab and see an integrated view and analysis of virtually any outside data from directly within the Salesforce platform. Only a cloud-native platform can accomplish this.
BI vendors are typically tasked with providing a proof of concept when trying to sell their products to new customers. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that the big boys are mainly focused on those big money accounts. DrivenBI believes that our self-service BI solution will provide businesses of all sizes substantial ROI. Because of the cloud-native infrastructure of SRK, DrivenBI is able to offer prospects sandbox accounts for them to further experiencing the product right after the initial demonstration meeting, without the big price tag. A typical turn-around cycle for proof of concept, from requirement gathering to final demonstration, is about one week. We help customers grow their businesses by using SRK, not select customers based on their ability to pay.
Cost & Scalability
The licensing model from the large BI vendors would require a substantial capital investment if an organization were to roll out its solution in large scale, plus the ongoing maintenance cost as desktop applications and server are installed on premise. Capital investment also imposes vendor lock down – since a significant chunk of budget has already been spent, organizations may have no choice but to keep using what they’ve purchased even if later on their objectives have shifted or better solutions have emerged. The cloud-native nature of SRK allows DrivenBI to offer a simple yet flexible subscription-based pricing model. There is no capital investment, easy to get started, and easy to scale up as the organization’s analysis demand increases.
SRK offers a series of features that push the boundary of self-service – a flexible, three-pronged approach. A “Sandbox” that requires zero setup, where users can explore freely and click through a showcase analysis related to their specific industry. A “Reference Use Case Library” for users to quickly load prebuilt uses cases according to industry, and then supplement their own data and rapidly turn it into their own analysis. “Interactive Tours” accompany all major SRK features and explain to users the basics of the platform while they are using it. Being cloud-native enables DrivenBI’s engineering team to continuously add more reference use cases and Tours for all SRK users.
Being cloud-native not only allows DrivenBI to offer simple and flexible pricing, it also enables our engineering team to frequently enrich the product and subsequently the user experience. Enhancements are constantly rolled out under a fast-phased bi-weekly release cycle. While customers may have doubts about the subscription model at the very beginning, they quickly start to appreciate the value-added service – they keep benefiting from the continuous improvements of the platform without extra charges. While for most BI vendors are using traditional client-server architecture and a traditional license-based pricing, upgrade is only for a limited time. After which any upgrade would become another round of capital investment.
DrivenBI SRK has made all its features cloud-native, facilitating ad-hoc, dynamic analysis and real-time information sharing and collaboration. DrivenBI also made the customer support live. If users have any questions regarding the system, our live chat and voice call support is just one click away.
Born as a cloud-native, self-service BI platform by removing IT complexity for business professionals, there is still a lot more innovation and creativity that DrivenBI is exploring with SRK for our customers worldwide.
Contributed by: Ben Tai, Founder and CEO of DrivenBI. Before launching DrivenBI, he was most recently Vice President of Global Services at Business Objects, now an SAP Company. At Business Objects, he led the worldwide XI migration program office to drive R2 product adoption. Prior to Business Objects, Ben was Vice President leading Worldwide Professional Services at Vitria, the premier provider of enterprise application integration (EAI) and business process management (BPM) software. Before Vitria, Ben developed his career for 13 years at Oracle, the world largest enterprise and database provider. His last position at Oracle was Group Vice President leading Managed Services business unit. Ben holds Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from NYU Tandon School of Engineering, studied American Culture at Columbia University and Business Administration at USC Marshall Business School.