How to build a self-service BI strategy

Think about the times you've wished you had more insight into your business data. Or all of the times you wished you could answer questions about your business performance without waiting for someone else to get back to you. Gone are the days when businesses rely solely on IT staff to provide reports and analytics. With self-service business intelligence (BI), users can create their own reports, dashboards, and data visualizations without relying on IT help. This allows businesses to be more agile and responsive to changing needs. But how do you build a successful self-service BI strategy? Here are six steps you can follow to set your company up for success.

1. Define your goals

Before you can create a successful self-service BI strategy, you need to first define your goals. What are you hoping to accomplish by empowering your employees with data? Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, you can begin to create a plan for achieving them.

At the highest level, allowing all business stakeholders to make informed data-driven decisions is the ultimate goal of a self-service BI strategy. There is no template that applies to all companies so it’s important to set your own goals. That said, here are a few to consider we frequently see:  

  • Monthly active users: Measuring the Monthly Active Users (MAUs) is a great metric to track how many employees are using data to inform their decision, and the overall success or failure of analytics adoption over time. Looking at this at the beginning of every month can really help inform user adoption activities.

  • # of analytics use cases: Another goal we often see is to enable additional use cases. An initial BI strategy may start with a few use cases to build competencies and momentum around the self-service BI strategy. Identifying future use cases and setting measurable goals to launch them based on priority and value to the business will help you further the team’s mission.

  • Progress on a business initiative: Another common goal we see is making an impact on a high profile business initiative. This could look like creating an executive 360 Liveboard, reducing employee churn, or analyzing diversity and inclusion metrics. Every business likely has several of these initiatives that are top of mind for company leadership and absolutely possible through self-service BI.

2. Assess your current situation

Next, you need to assess your current situation. What kind of data do you have? How is it organized? How accessible is it? By taking stock of your current data situation, you can begin to identify any gaps or areas for improvement.

This is a great time to build a BI maturity model. A BI maturity model is a map of your company's journey from spreadsheets to full self service BI and everything in between. There are many maturity model resources you can find on the internet. The value of this exercise is in mapping out where you currently are in your journey and documenting the ideal state. Once you understand your company’s maturity, you should be able to define activities and objectives to help you go further.

Say for example your ideal state is to have your company CEO self-serve insights to make business decisions. To achieve this, you’re going to have to understand what your company’s data sources are, how they relate to each other, how they can be modeled for search and discovery, and what data pipeline work will be required. The maturity model approach lets you build logical steps in that journey, avoiding the build-everything-at-once approach that has killed countless BI initiatives. A series of small victories will do wonders for the momentum, excitement, and eventual success of a self service BI strategy.

3. Identify your power users

One of the keys to success with self-service BI is identifying your power users. These are the employees who are most likely to make use of the data and who will be the biggest advocates for its use. By identifying these key players early on, you can ensure that they're included in the planning process from the start.

Power users should represent a diverse pool across multiple parts of your organization. The technically-trained analyst is a valuable persona, and you should include them, but don’t forget the non-technical business leaders that have a keen interest in getting insights from data. Their feedback and contribution will be just as valuable.

4. Choose the right tools 

There are a lot of different BI tools on the market. To make the right selection, it’s crucial to research which ones will best meet the needs of your business and users. 

Best-of-breed solutions across the modern data stack are incredibly useful to building a self-service BI strategy. That’s because these tools are easy to deploy, offer massive scalability, and act as configurable components in your overall architecture. Any technology used to collect, process, and store data should be carefully evaluated on these factors. The result? Greater efficiency, innovation through agility, and velocity for your business. 

5. Train your users  

Once you've chosen the right tools, it's important your users are trained on how to use them effectively. Providing adequate training will ensure that your employees are able to make full use of the capabilities of the tools and that they understand how to interpret the data properly. 

As the saying goes “You can please some people all the time, you can please everyone some of the time, but you can't please everyone all of the time”. No matter how hard you try, it’s unlikely that a single training will satisfy all users. You should make the effort to build trainings based on specific user personas. These personas could be department-based (e.g. marketing, finance) or skill-based (e.g. basic, super, admin.) 

I see the latter approach most often. In that case, the basic user training should be limited to a 30-minute introduction with enough depth to have users create insights using the BI platform. The super user training can be one to two hours in length and include enough depth for this person to build insights for others. And finally, the admin trainings may be a series of sessions  to cover the full depth of the platform.

6. Monitor and adjust 

After implementing your self-service BI strategy, it's important to monitor its effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. Things will inevitably change over time, so it's important to adapt as necessary. 

The simplest starting point for this step is to ask: What does success look like for my self service BI strategy? When you answer this question you define what success means for your company. From there you can determine what metrics you will use to measure success. Success means something different to every company, but one that comes up a lot is making insights available to the most employees. 

Monthly active users (MAU’s) in this case would be a good metric to monitor progress. There is a simple formula whereby the MAU’s from one month ago divided by the MAU from two months ago is called a retention rate. A retention rate above 100% means there are more users than the prior month and healthy growth. A retention rate below 100% means you have less users, and would be a trigger for action to adjust activities to support your users.

Start your self-service analytics journey in the right direction

Implementing a self-service BI strategy can be a daunting task, but it’s well worth the effort. With the right tools and training, your employees will be able to make full use of the data at their disposal and answer important questions about your business performance. ThoughtSpot is one such tool that can help you get started on your journey to self-service analytics. Sign up for a free trial today and see how easy it is to get started.