There is more to implementing Self-Service Business Intelligence Business Intelligence than getting new software like Power BI, mindsets and practices also need to change. The data teams in many companies formed their policies based on history with previous technologies. One of those policies that is fraught with contention is letting the users have access to the data in order to do their own analysis. The reasons for this are based on a story like this one. Like many a data professional, I worked at a company where we gave a team of users access to the database in order for them to do analysis. It was a replicated database, as we didn’t want to impact production. As these analysts primary skill was marketing not SQL, they wrote a query that took all the resources so no one had the ability to do anything else with the database, and we were required to intervene and kill the query to make the database useful again. After that, we changed their access to only being able to use views created for them to prevent this from happening again. Variations of this story exist all over.
Data Access has changed and so has the need for a 64-bit OS
Self-Service BI is supposed to be a way for Analysts to answer ad-hoc questions from Management about the business. While data professionals certainly could and do answer these questions, at some point a focus line is drawn. If the primary focus is to determine the best way to write a query or implement an appropriate indexing scheme, this person has a technical focus and not a business focus. People with a business focus probably should be the person who use data to drive decision making. While technical people can write reports very efficiently, given the continual requests for answers from the data, keeping up with what the business people want to do can be extremely difficult as the numbers of reports required in various formats can be overwhelming. Like the old argument that “You don’t need a 64-bit OS” have become obsolete, so have the reasons for not giving business users access to the data. Now is the time to give them access. If you only have a 32-bit operating system, you don’t have the memory needed to do much data analysis. Data Analyst need 64 bit OS and access to the data.
What kind of Access should Analyst Have?
Most Analyst use Excel, which has become the de-facto tool of choice for data analysis. One doesn’t need to have a working knowledge of the SQL language to analyze data, and the scenario referenced above still happens. Instead data should be provided in a manner which is easy to consume in a Pivot table, allowing users to select, sort and filter the data at will. Analysis Services cubes, whether they be tabular or multidimensional provided this capability. Using a cube in an excel spreadsheet has very little chance of ever crashing a server, so go ahead and grant access. Give analysts the tools they need to provide the answers they need. Create a collaborative environment to grant access and provide the analyst what they need. In this kind of environment true data based decision making can really happen.
Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur