Self-Service BI
October 12, 2021

Engaging Data Explains :

Self-Service BI

Self-service business intelligence is making a huge difference to companies across a variety of sectors, by helping to optimise data analysis.

However, some businesses perceive that implementing a business intelligence approach can be challenging, due to various barriers to entry issues. This is something of a false impression, but this is why it’s important for business intelligence to explore data using simple tools, while enabling questions to be answered quickly.

Dealing with Data Management

Many traditional data teams build pipelines of data in order to deal with their data management procedures. But the approach utilised is not always ideal. It’s common for data engineers and analysts to explore data and build solutions with specific results in mind, which is rather putting the cart before the horse. More logical would be to make the data generally available and appropriately linked. This enables end-users to more readily explore the data, drawing more nuanced conclusions from the assembled information.

Truly valuable business intelligence should always be an end-to-end iterative process. Business teams need relevant, timely data in order to uncover accurate insights. Deploying platforms to achieve this is merely one crucial component of business intelligence. 

As you develop your business intelligence approach, it’s important to understand that self-service business intelligence doesn’t require everyone in an organisation to train as business analysts. Nor should it mean removing responsibility from your IT department. Instead, it’s about encouraging and educating your business teams to understand and interact with the data they generate throughout their work – creating a joined-up process across your organisation.

Using Power BI

One of the best ways to achieve this is via Power BI. This cloud package has been on a long journey since it was first released, but is now the ideal app to ensure that companies can engage with data safely. Probably the most valuable aspect of this package is that it provides an incredible amount of options and guided analysis, making your business intelligence process much more flexible.

Did you know, you can achieve 90% of this using Power BI Report Server – AKA the on-premise version of Power BI. 

Using Power BI Report Server prompted an excellent reaction from end-users, who were excited at their ability to slice data and retrieve answers to client queries rapidly. This is one of the big advantages of business intelligence; it enables companies to get to the core of what drives customer demand quickly. You are accelerating the ability of clients to use data to solve critical business problems.

Dealing with self-service business intelligence can be intimidating, though. This is particularly true if an organisation requires this to be achieved without using the cloud, or spending a significant amount of money on new software. Historically, this form of business intelligence has posed problems with identifying required data, such as reports, with little or no description or business knowledge behind the purpose of the reports. For this reason, self-service business intelligence has been known to reduce IT departments to cold sweats!

In early experiences of self-service business intelligence, there was often no gold standard with design. Imagine – using SSRS where there could be hundreds of folders and sub-folders, with dozens of data connections, generating thousands of reports. And then every report featured a different format. Understanding how each report was being used was nigh-on impossible, and general data analysis was far from effective.

Range of Options

But things are changing. New self-service business intelligence solutions offer clients a range of options, and enable data to be provided safely and in a controlled format. And there are several options available for companies, with decentralised, centralised, and hybrid approaches all possible. These approaches will be selected depending on the demographics of IT teams, with the level of governance and control involved having a major influence.

The great thing about Power BI desktop is that it is an adaptable tool, enabling users to get started with data transformation quickly. Most experienced Excel users can quickly get to grips with this innovation, meaning that it can be easily and widely implemented across an organisation.

The tool itself allows IT to extract the data transformation and, if required, reverse engineer it back into a data warehouse. Providing the business users with a tool that acts like a Rosetta stone between business and IT!

It’s important to emphasise, though, that regardless of the technology you always need to understand who you are catering for with data. With this in mind, there are several ways that you can delegate the permissions, rules, and responsibilities with Power BI, as this adds to the flexibility of the platform. Power users are also important, as these credentialed individuals utilise their experience with Excel to produce reports for an organisation.

As you develop your self-service business intelligence strategy, it is vital to implement proper governance. This will help you to avoid creating data silos, data sprawl, poor performance, and lax security. Unless you implement appropriate governance, business users will have unrestricted access to source systems and Power BI folders. This can lead to inappropriate sharing of data.

Key Factors

It’s also important to consider the following factors:

  • Service size and data storage – you do not have unlimited resources with Power BI Report Server, and you could therefore experience larger datasets consuming a significant portion of resources, impacting the performance of the entire service.
  • Risks to source systems – allowing users to connect with any source system or raw files can create problems.
  • Access and permissions – security must always be taken into consideration. Failing to pay proper attention to access and permissions can result in numerous ad-hoc groups being created, which can then be problematic. Controlling groups, and tweaking which users can be added into each AD group, is definitely advisable.
  • Many versions of the truth – if you have several different people involved to create the same report, you’re likely to get numerous different answers. This is why it is important for data warehouses to be populated, effectively creating a single source of universal truth.
  • Reduced audit and tracking – if end-users fail to provide adequate details or purposeful dashboards, the ‘who, what & why’ regarding the purpose of the report is lost, undermining the whole process.


Implementing Self-Service Business Intelligence has become far more feasible, but it’s still important to impose some control over how your services are being utilised, in order to generate the maximum and most accurate insight. Power BI Report Server can be an excellent tool in enhancing business intelligence, and definitely one we recommend for clients who are reliant on data.

If you are interested in Self Service BI, book a call us and find out how it could help your team.

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